back to article Judge slams BT for blaming engineer after 7 metre ceiling plunge

BT has been fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £98,913.51 after one of its engineers broke both ankles after falling seven metres from a loft onto a concrete stairwell. David Spurgeon was fixing a telephone fault in the roof void of a block of flats in Bow, east London, when he lost his balance and plunged through the …

  1. Christopher Lane

    Gives a whole new meaning... drop cables...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gives a whole new meaning...

      The engineer's just the fall guy here

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Law

          Re: Gives a whole new meaning...

          Not cool... he's just trying to get back on his feet!!

          1. Danny 14

            Re: Gives a whole new meaning...

            He doesnt hang about for long though.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very weird

    In the days I was in BT I had to go through a very lengthy rigmarole regarding H&S training every 6 months despite not being anywhere near field work.

    Based on what I recall from that and the specific section on work at heights:

    According to BT's own rulebook he should have stopped there right after doing the survey and requested a second person on-site and appropriate equipment. He failed to do so and went on to do the job in violation of BT regs regardless.

    So, while whacking BT is always good and is usually justified, this particular instance does seem a bit overboard.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Very weird

      Uh huh. And how long do you expect he'd take crap for asking for a 2nd person? And delaying the install? I know BT doesn't care about install delays, but he'd be the scapegoat. Don't expect HR to take his side either.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Very weird

      I agree. Whenever I've had BT engineers turn up, they're always very strict about adhering to H&S rules.

    3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Very weird

      I was thinking that too. I've not been following the details of the case but I would have thought that he would have been aware of his situation and at some point had the opportunity to think "this is dangerous, and goes against H&S training - I'm not going any further"

    4. goldcd

      This wasn't an install, but a repair job

      So I'd have thought there should have been a survey of the site held, that indicated there was cabling in the loft space, and flagged this as a dangerous environment. Not obviously "at height", but if you're working over a piece of plasterboard, as good as..

      It's not as if he was being asked to climb an antenna mast, or work outside the building and I wouldn't have considered he'd have realized it was dangerous, until he went through the ceiling and found a 7m drop.

    5. FuzzyWuzzys

      Re: Very weird

      I agree, my understanding from my own H&S brainwashing sessions is that it's always about you AND the employer, you both have a duty to each other to ensure the work is carried out safely and ultimately you're both responsible to ensure that the correct surveys and precautions are in place, it's never you OR them.

    6. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Very weird

      The irritation about this case is just how little information has been released.

      There is a little more information than presented by El Reg on the HSE site ( )

      Yes, if I'm prepared to go through the pay wall at Court News ( ) the full proceedings are probably accessible, but is it unreasonable for the El Reg journalist to have done this and so clearly present the case made against BT?

      So from what I infer, the hazardous situation at Tay House was known by BT (ie. it was on the file for the address), but there was an attempt to deflect blame by managers over whether they knew about it and hence should of assigned two engineers rather than one etc. additionally, it would seem there was a disagreement over the extent of survey the individual engineer conducted.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Very weird


        Agreed. Pretty much the only new information is that a jury of our peers found BT guilty. Otherwise we know no more than before it started.

  3. John Lilburne

    Seen that happen before. Company tried to blame worker for accident. Court demanded evidence of written procedure and proof that employee had been given the appropriate training. When company couldn't provide any evidence, they got ripped apart. Later they tried to give the employee a written warning, but the Union Rep knew what had happen in court and ripped them apart again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...and the problem is that sometimes the employee was told (but there was no signature) or they did something obviously stupid...... and other times the employee was doing their best and the unscrupulous company is trying to blame them.

      Oh yes, the problem: the problem is telling which is which without forcing costs up out of all proportion...... Wasn't there a scene from The Young Ones where one of them puts a sandwich in the video and the others ask why "well it didn't say not to" comes the reply.

      Having organised a variety of international (mostly European) events it seems to me that the UK tends to have got the proportions wrong so that things become very expensive without actually decreasing the number of accidents.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        " things become very expensive without actually decreasing the number of accidents."

        Because lawyers.

        1. TheOtherHobbes

          >Because lawyers.

          Unlike engineers, when it comes to money, lawyers don't hang about.

      2. Triggerfish

        Oh yes, the problem: the problem is telling which is which without forcing costs up out of all proportion.......

        Why do you think there was a judge and court case?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > one of them puts a sandwich in the video

        washing up liquid, if my memory serves me

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          If it's the young ones episode i think I recall

          It would be when they got a vcr but had instructions for the toaster....

      4. Skoorb


        Yeah. This sounds a bit similar to the medical field here. If you didn't write it down in the patient notes it is very difficult to prove that:

        - it happened, or

        - you considered it as a possibility.

        So, unless the employer can produce some documentary proof that the employee underwent the appropriate training and was issued with the appropriate instructions and equipment, all it takes is the employee to say that it didn't happen and it didn't happen.

        Generally speaking, this is A Good Thing and The Right Answer, but occasionally it can go a bit too far. There is a really interesting Radio 4 programme presented by ex MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller called The Blame Game. Give it a listen if you have half an hour to spare, it's really good, and also rather applicable to IT service management.

  4. ukgnome

    But did BT mend the fault?

    1. barstewardsquad

      But did BT mend the fault?

      We don't know, the Engineer could only hang on for a few minutes.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tay House?

    I always knew that AI would try to kill someone sooner or later.

  6. Leeroy Silver badge

    Sub contractors

    I advised a customer to get BT to complete the data and phone wiring at a new office (they were stuck on contract for 4 more years) including a wall mounted comms cabinet. Around 48 ports over 3 floors with a central 'server room'.

    Sub contractor takes 2 weeks to complete the work because they think the customer only needs 30 ish ports ? Wtf was going on in their mind was a mystery to me.

    Anyway the BT guy turns up, installs the phone system in the cabinet and it promptly falls off the wall almost killing him and wrecking all the kit inside. BT tried blaming the customer for not having the cabinet fitted properly ? The sub contractor has used one inch plasterboard screws in a brick wall !

    The cabinet is now on the floor so it can't fall on anyone else.

    1. The Real Tony Smith

      Re: Sub contractors

      Reminds me of when we had a Mercury box installed to escape BT's horrendous call charges.

      It was screwed to a plasterboard wall with screws and ordinary rawlplugs. It developed quite a lean and we were all carefull to go to the other side of the corridor when walking past so as not to jog it.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Sub contractors

        It was screwed to a plasterboard wall with screws and ordinary rawlplugs. It developed quite a lean and we were all carefull to go to the other side of the corridor when walking past so as not to jog it.

        Um... Was that the limit of your "mitigation" or did you* bother to report the defective installation? If you* didn't then if there had been an "incident" you* would have been every bit as guilty as the original numbskull who did the installation.

        * The "collective" you, that is.

  7. The Real Tony Smith

    Possibly he only thought it would be a 7ft fall onto the floor and he didn't realise he'd moved along the loft and was over the stairwell?

    1. Jeffrey Nonken

      Meters, not feet. There is a non-trivial difference.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        No, the comment was correct.

        The BT guy probably thought it was "only" 7 feet down to the floor level from which he'd entered the loft. But, he'd moved along the loft, and unknown to him, he was now over the stairwell where it was a much much bigger drop of 7 meters (which is about 23 feet).

        I'm picturing that looking out of the office window - it's about the equivalent of hanging off our guttering, and I'd not want to be there.

        I feel for the guy, I assume he'd been left permanently impaired and quite possibly with long term pain. Not fun at all, and not something I'd wish on anyone.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your safety is important to us...

    Your safety is important to us. All our safety personnel are busy helping others. Please hang on.

  9. John Styles


    When our office switched from Virgin to someone using the BT network for its fixed line connection, OpenReach came out and did a survey and said that the work would have to be done by a contractor as the work was about ground level - OpenCantReach perhaps? Bizarrely, OpenReach told the subcontractor a 10 foot ladder was needed whereas it was more stepstool sort of height.

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