Six-figure sum helps Tillicoultry man move on after horror chimney fall
Published: 12 Mar 2014 12:301 comment
Dylan Skelhorn (33) suffered a collapsed lung, fractured pelvis and spent five days in hospital after the fall in 2011.
The horrifying incident in Falkirk left him in permanent pain and unable to return to work.
In January this year he took his employer, D Henderson Chimney Specialists and Roofers Limited, to court for not providing proper safety gear, including a harness. They settled out of court with a six-figure sum just a day before the hearing was due to take place.
Dylan, a chimney engineer from Tillicoultry, told the Advertiser that he was standing on top of the chimney stack cope stone sweeping the chimney when it collapsed beneath him. He explained, “It broke into four pieces and I slid down the roof pitch and over the edge and landed on a garden wall on my chest – that’s what punctured my lung and broke my ribs. The force of the fall broke my pelvis in two places on either side.”
He added, “I wasn’t even supposed to be sweeping the chimney – that wasn’t my job – but someone had phoned in sick.”
Dylan was rushed to the hospital and spent the first night in the intensive care unit as doctors drained the blood filling up his lungs and put his pelvis in a brace. He was kept in hospital under observation for the next four days before he was discharged.
The fall left him with degenerative arthritis in his pelvis, lower back nerve damage and suffering nightmarish flashbacks – plus a fear of heights.
He tried physiotherapy and acupuncture but nothing would take the pain away.
Dylan said, “I’m on lots of pills every day. It’s a real struggle. The pain’s always there, it never goes away.
“I was an active guy. Would go to the gym three times a week, I’ve abseiled, went zip sliding across the Clyde, I was in the fire brigade for six years. Now I cringe when I see heights on the telly – it’s horrible.”
Dylan, who had been with the firm for almost two years, claimed he was told the company had permission to carry out the work without a harness. He feared for his job if he questioned his boss.
He said, “I was always a safe person and would never take risks. I never wanted to stand on top of the chimney with nothing to hold on to but I watched a guy get sacked because he wasn’t happy working without restraints on. If I had said anything I would have got the sack and there are no jobs out there. I was told they didn’t use harnesses – that it was the norm.”
However, investigators for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety, found that the firm had exposed its workers to an “unacceptable level” of risk. They concluded that the company had not carried out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, provided adequate training, or employed a safe system of work for employees engaged in the task of chimney sweeping.
In November last year, the Tillicoultry-based firm was fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to breaching sections of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Following the case, HSE Inspector Kerry Elliot, said, “HSE’s investigation clearly showed that this chimney could have been cleaned from within the property – something this company did not even consider at the time. If it is not possible to avoid working at height then employers must ensure that they provide employees with the necessary equipment to keep them safe.”