back to article BT hauled into Old Bailey after engineer's 7-metre fall broke both his ankles

One-time monopoly telco BT is in court on charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an engineer fell seven metres onto a concrete stairwell and broke both his ankles. The three-week trial, over allegations that BT failed in its duty of care to the engineer, is taking place at the Central Criminal Court – …

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The three-week trial

THREE WEEK?

It's a wonder we get anything done in this country.

Ahh, yes. The irony of it all.

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Re: The three-week trial

Clearly BT are contesting it.

Not making any comment on this case in particular, but you do wonder sometimes when common sense should come into doing a job. You can't expect a company to hold its employees hands 100% of the time and be responsible for every dumb decision they make just because they're the employer.

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Re: The three-week trial

But you can expect a company to make sure their employees are properly trained, to make sure the correct equipment is available and that there are enough staff to do the job safely, and to give anyone who breaks the rules a bloody good bollocking rather than turning a blind eye or, worse, cajoling them into breaking the rules. Roughly this can be summed up by saying a company has a "duty of care".

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Re: The three-week trial

"But you can expect a company to make sure their employees are properly trained, to make sure the correct equipment is available and that there are enough staff to do the job safely, and to give anyone who breaks the rules a bloody good bollocking"

I suspect there is a large question over the extent to which the engineer did or didn't follow their training and whether both sides adhered to the lone worker procedures and whether these procedures were adequate.

One thing is certain, if the engineer did fall seven metres onto a concrete stairwell they are very lucky to be alive, let alone get away with such slight injuries.

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Re: The three-week trial

It'd be interesting to know a bit more about the individual case, maybe el reg will cover this when it's all finished and more information is available.

Presumably the engineer didn't know he was about to step on a ceiling tile, because nobody in their right mind would deliberately put their weight onto a ceiling tile. Even if the tile didn't break you'd almost certainly be going downwards anyway because the supports are certainly not rated for person sized weights.

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Re: The three-week trial

"But you can expect a company to make sure their employees are properly trained, to make sure the correct equipment is available and that there are enough staff to do the job safely, and to give anyone who breaks the rules a bloody good bollocking rather than turning a blind eye or, worse, cajoling them into breaking the rules. Roughly this can be summed up by saying a company has a "duty of care"."

Yes, well assuming all that - how do you expect the company to enforce it if the engineer is working on his own and does something stupid? I realise this is the era of the kidult millenial who'll run off to hug a teddy bear in their safe space as soon as they get stressed and probably need to be watched, but mature adults don't expect or want round the clock supervision.

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Paris Hilton

Re: The three-week trial

Send them out in crews so they aren't working alone in situations like this one? Having said that, I know from experience in the last couple of weeks that an Openreach engineer working on the pole near us had to wait until a colleague arrived so he could be observed as said pole has electrical cables running across it too so maybe they are taking things a bit more seriously?

Paris - well, pole obviously :)

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Re: The three-week trial

"...how do you expect the company to enforce it if the engineer is working on his own and does something stupid?"

I don't. But I do expect them to do everything reasonable. Which, to repeat myself, means reprimanding employees caught breaking the rules, and terminating the contracts of anyone who persists.

But if this was a single engineer who did something stupid I doubt it would be in court. A three week case suggests there's plenty of evidence to be heard. So perhaps a disagreement about whether the procedures were adequate. Or perhaps there was a management culture that pressured people into ignoring the rules.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The three-week trial

Exactly.

I find myself employed these days by a major owner/operator of British infrastructure (not BT I might add).

We have loads of procedures in place to keep us safe, but we also have tight budgets and stressed managers.

Safety above everything goes out the window when there's a panic on. Yes, we can refuse to carry out an unsafe task by following our procedures, and no, there will be no immediate consequences as long as we were justified. But you can bet your last that your name will be up in neon lights to every manager and will suddenly find itself making its way up redundancy lists (which are regular enough to be a constant threat). Find yourself in that situation more than once and you are branded a troublemaker.

We don't know the pressures this worker was under and though it doesn't make it right, managers still put workers in bad positions.

Anonymous, because I've potentially just slagged off the company that pays my mortgage.

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Re: The three-week trial

Each BT engineer seems to follow their own rules. For example I've recently had 2 PSTN lines installed at an office.

The first bloke (in his 40s?) was more than happy to run the cable up from the demarc on the ground floor, up to the 3rd, then across the ceiling tiles on the 3rd to the comms cabinet and fitted the NTE there.

The 2nd bloke (in his 20s) point blank refused to go above head height under any circumstances, he was willing to attach a long cable to the demarc on the ground floor and leave it up to us to run it up the 2nd floor.

Not sure if that's a generational thing?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The three-week trial

then across the ceiling tiles

Irrespective of the height, if the cables weren't of a suitable flame-retardant type, they shouldn't be run in a void above ceiling tiles.

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Re: The three-week trial

Maybe the 20yr old hadnt donebhis working at height? You cant be compelled to go up ladders (some people are afraid of heights )

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Childcatcher

Re: The three-week trial @ Jason 24

First of all, everyone on here needs to be a lot more careful what they say UNTIL THIS COURT HEARING IS CONCLUDED.

It's only too easy, especially sitting at a desk away from the court in blissful ignorance of any of the pertinent details, to unwittingly fall foul of contempt of court.

Pissing off the judge is not clever, impeding justice even less so. Too easy to do without knowing all the facts.

To your point - Health and safety is often largely based on experience and engineering judgement. In fact it always should be. Regardless of the regulations - which should be complied with - they can't cover every eventuality. They're often a bit pedantic and proscriptive - largely because they have to try to protect idiots and idiot managers, as well as those around them.

In the end safety is in the hands of the operator - An engineer with 20 years experience has just that - a kid out of school does not.

Several things could apply:

The older man is used to laxer times and ways and has learned how far work safely with a little greater risk.

The kid out of school (or uni) is still a bit green, doesn't have such a good head for heights and is feeling his way.

He's just been on a H & S course and had s***t scared out of him.

He's under a greater workload / lazy.

The older guy knows / doesn't care all about suitability of cables in voids. the younger??

Altitude on the day might be a giveaway.

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Re: The three-week trial

"But you can expect a company to make sure their employees are properly trained... give anyone who breaks the rules a bloody good bollocking rather than turning a blind eye"

And what if they do break the rules? I just watched an installation contractor climb around on neighboring roof, when I know they are prohibited from going on any roofs at all. But they also had a customer on the ground badgering them to get their line fixed. Anything that requires access to a roof, requires them to call for a bucket truck.

I'm surprised the installer (how is an installer an engineer in BT land?) didn't sue the property owner for having a defective roof. Supporting the weight of a single person for maintenance purposes is a design requirement for a roof. That is an obvious liability.

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Re: The three-week trial @AC

Yes when first reading the comments here. I though another thing always needed is a culture where workers are not penalised for turning round to their employers and refusing to work in dangerous conditons. I've also know managers who have let people go do unsafe job, because they do not get shit for turning the work down, and it's not them taking the risk, so failing duty of care due to pressure.

On the other side I have also seen contractors take daft risks to get a job in and earn the money.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The three-week trial

"Supporting the weight of a single person for maintenance purposes is a design requirement for a roof. That is an obvious liability."

Have you never seen a roof with signs that said "crawling boards must be used"?

The roof will support the weight if proper procedures (preferably properly documented and advised procedures) are properly followed.

Incidentally. companies like BT have technicians. They don't call them installers. Companies like BT have engineers too.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The three-week trial

I was 18 at a telecomms training school. God knows how I got the job I had been scared of heights all my life. The trainer simply said "mate if you can't stand heights you are in the wrong job. Door is there if you can't hack it.". He went on to demo the safety kit we HAD to use and my vertigo evaporated. That said if there was an unguarded height the chappy should have been using the work restraint system put in place or used fall arrest. The hardest bit is recognising the need especially in a confined space that might transform from a guarded walkway to a smaller crawlspace with crap lighting and an unrecognisable surface covered in 30 years of rubbish and dust.

There wasn't a procedure back then for us, we just held a mini maglight between our teeth and balanced on beams. I guess these days it would need a team of three, a written RA for the site and methodology and.. cost the customer lot more.

In residential, loft spaces cover a stairwell of several metres and would prove fatal drops. How many people use fall restraint kit hopping round their attic at home?

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Re: The three-week trial

"maybe el reg will cover this when it's all finished and more information is available."

I'm hoping that too. As is, it's pretty much a non-story until the case is concluded and the details are made available. All the available facts are in the headline/sub. The story itself is superfluous.

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Roof Strength

When was this roof built? Did it require this design requirement when it was built? ( The roof on my house has been there since it was built in the 1840's, when I bought the house 20 years ago the surveyor said it was liable to fail at any minute and should be replaced as soon as possible, still the same roof I just have not got around to it. Can I sue the mortgage company for mis selling the mortgage against a dogy roof?)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Roof Strength

"the surveyor said it was liable to fail at any minute and should be replaced as soon as possible, still the same roof I just have not got around to it."

Don't surveyors always say that (even when there's no engineering reality behind it) because it absolves them of any liability (or even bad feeling) if [the roof] does fail - after all, they warned you.

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More than reported here?

I'd have expected BT to simply admit fault and pay compensation and any fine. I wonder what is their side of the argument, that makes it worth paying lawyers for three weeks when the degree of injury was not catastrophic?

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Re: More than reported here?

Standard Health and Safety in that situation is that you should have a Harness & Lanyard when working at height. I can't imagine a company the size of BT would have broke the law and skipped training on this. So maybe they it was common practice for engineers to skip this on roofs and BT never enforced it, therefore they would be at blame...

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Re: More than reported here?

A fall while wearing a Harness & Lanyard can cause suspension trauma, which can be fatal if not rescued quickly enough. Do not use a harness while working alone.

It has been Openreach policy for a while that their employees are not allowed to enter attics, maybe this incident was the cause? When they recently fixed my parents phone line, they left the cable dangling through an open window and left instructions for me to put it through the attic and connect it to the socket when I got back from work. It seems that these days if you want decent rural broadband you can upgrade the Openreach cable yourself ;)

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Re: More than reported here?

"So maybe they it was common practice for engineers to skip this on roofs and BT never enforced it, therefore they would be at blame..."

Thats a bit like saying the police are to blame for someone dying in a car crash due to not wearing a seat belt because they didn't enforce the seatbelt law strictly enough.

There comes a point at which people have to take personal responsibilty for their own actions.

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Re: More than reported here?

I'm not saying it's right, but that's the law. It's there for a reason though, to make sure that employers actually do enforce health and safety and therefore increase safety. If they do enforce it and the employee still doesn't do as told then I think BT will be in the clear.

I'd imagine the reason this case will take 3 weeks is because they will be trying to prove they were enforcing it and this was one rogue employee, whereas the employee will be trying to say that wasn't the case which will require other people giving evidence etc.

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Re: More than reported here?

"Standard Health and Safety in that situation is that you should have a Harness & Lanyard when working at height."

<snip>

I would put it to you that he was not working at height, well at least not until the tiles gave way and the void opened up.

I am sure he probably had all the equipment but knew better. I miss the good old days when personal culpability was the rage and if you acted the idiot and got hurt it was your fault. Nowadays it is always the fault of others and before we know it we will have seat belts and airbags on our toilets, lest we should hurt ourselves in some unknown manner.

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Re: More than reported here?

I miss the good old days when personal culpability was the rage and if you acted the idiot and got hurt it was your fault.

Me too.

But my question is, why are they spending on three weeks worth of lawyers, rather than what I suspect wuld be the considerably cheaper option of admitting "yes, not worth disputing this, our fault" and paying the fine and compensating the poor chap for his broken ankles, pain and suffering. (Do we have any equivalent of the USA's "no contest" in such proceedings? )

If he'd been put in a wheelchair for life, then contesting it might have made financial sense.

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Re: More than reported here?

I miss the good old days when personal culpability was the rage and if you acted the idiot and got hurt it was your fault.

You miss the good old days pre-HSE, when we killed about 400 people a year in workplace accidents? That's in my lifetime, I don't miss it.

My employers recently had a workplace fatality. Without going into detail because it will undoubtedly go to court, the deceased was a subcontractor who did things that led directly to their death. But (in my view, and my company's) it isn't acceptable these days to allow people to hurt themselves. If they are determined enough then it is very difficult to stop them - but there should be every detail of training, equipment, due process, planning, supervision in place to avoid accidents (and for that matter to protect employees mental wellbeing). If it is a papercut you might say "meh", but if it is a serious injury or fatality, then there is always more that could have been done - but its now too late.

There's family, friends, colleagues grieving for a young man, probably with minimal educational attainment who was killed whilst simply trying to do a not very well paid job. Is it really OK to say "he brought it upon himself"?

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Re: More than reported here?

"But my question is, why are they spending on three weeks worth of lawyers, rather than what I suspect wuld be the considerably cheaper option of admitting "

Because, presumably, admitting liability means they'd have to change their practices, which would impact their profitability. Or it could just be because they're huge arses. But either way, it'll be about the bottom line.

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JC_

Re: More than reported here?

I miss the good old days when personal culpability was the rage and if you acted the idiot and got hurt it was your fault.

When the 'hurt' is abstract then it's easy to be a bit heartless, but see it up close and it's hard to keep that attitude. An uncle of mine was squashed by a shipping container while working at a port; it was partially his fault and partially the port-operator's, but the death was entirely his.

One of my lecturers at uni showed the class a series of pictures of industrial accidents - the one that sticks was the girl with a pony-tail who was scalped when her hair was caught up in the engine of a go-kart - and the point was clear: health and safety laws are there for very, very good reasons.

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Re: More than reported here?

Yes, I do miss those days. While recognising that it might have been rather different for the blue-collar staff and that we may have diffrerent contexts. I've actually been on H&S committees dealing with the serious risks and incidents, and that's good stuff done by good people. But the bureaucracy about the trivia is stultifying.

When I started working, if a light tube started flickering, I grabbed another one from electrical stores, grabbed the department's footstool, and changed the tube. Exactly the same as I'd do at home. If I'd somehow managed to hurt myself it would have been my fault, whether at work or at home. Situation was different if someone had ordered me to change the tube and I didn't feel safe or didn't feel that I had adequate know-how. That's one reason for unions.

Today, I'd have to phone the electricians, and then myself and colleagues would be unable to work until several hours later when an officially-trained sparks arrived and did exactly what's I'd have done for myself at home. In the meantime the health and safety rules actually create a risk of inducing an epileptic fit in someone who is flicker-sensitive but does not (yet) know it.

Another example, a few years ago myself and colleagues were banned from installing or removing anything in the equipment racks in the server room until the organisational database showed that we had attended the H&S course on "manual handling". Who do they imagine had installed everything in those racks in the first place with no injury worse than a tiny cut caused by a sharp metal edge? Which these days would be a "reportable incident". I don't think one in a hundred would bother reporting "needed a plaster to stop any blood dripping into a server", but that's probably a disciplinary offense! Also, something not covered on the manual handling course. I suspect I'd missed the course on "correct treatment and follow-up form-filling for trivially minor workplace injuries such as paper cuts".

It used to be a culture of "can do" and "use your initiative". Now it's "follow the rules" and "you aren't paid to think about anything except what we pay you to think about". It's not an improvement, and in fact was one facet of why I left that employer for a small company where people are still people not "human resources".

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Re: More than reported here?

"But (in my view, and my company's) it isn't acceptable these days to allow people to hurt themselves"

And that sums up the child like mentality of people today who also want to treat everyone else like children.

"Is it really OK to say "he brought it upon himself"?"

Frankly, yes. Natural selection's a bitch.

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Re: More than reported here?

" I miss the good old days when personal culpability was the rage and if you acted the idiot and got hurt it was your fault."

Well those days never ended in the UK "contributory negligence" is still part of UK law and damages are still calculated based on this- if it's 90% your fault, then you get 10% of the damages.

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Suspension Trauma?

Thought that was thoroughly discredited, my recent working at height course covered its non-existence quite well....

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Re: More than reported here?

You sound like the vast majority of people who just want to get on and get things done but I suspect these days businesses have to be extremely mindful of the litigious culture that seems to be sweeping across the country. You only have to tune in to some of the backwater TV channels to see the amount of "claims for workplace accident" companies doing the rounds and so everyone's day is made longer because these processes have to be put in place.

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WTF?

Re: More than reported here?

"Frankly, yes. Natural selection's a bitch."

And frankly, should your number come up, I imagine you won't be missed.

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Re: More than reported here?

And that sums up the child like mentality of people today who also want to treat everyone else like children.

Not really. It sums up the mentality of people who think that this is a modern, civilised society where employees have every right to be able to go to work and come home in one piece. Your Darwinian approach to safety at work suggests you're commenting from the year 1870.

Perhaps you should go back to reading the Daily Mail, they like a good "elf and safety gawn mad" story?

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Re: More than reported here?

"Frankly, yes. Natural selection's a bitch."

You're all heart. Unfortunately this argument, while sounding appealing and all grown-up, is exactly what companies abused for centuries. The argument would go like;

- This job could be dangerous, we could make it safer but that would be costly/time consuming.

- Fortunately we'll always manage to find someone who needs the money and will do it.

- Then when it goes wrong, it's their fault, no-one forced them, they did it to themselves.

- Replace the corpse with another sucker and carry on.

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Re: More than reported here?

> every detail of training, equipment, due process, planning, supervision in place to avoid accidents

Tell me about it - OldestBrother owns a (proper) tree surgery comany. He spends far too much time (far more than is legally required because he actually cares about his staff) doing H&S training & courses and risk assessment/mitigation.

Even to the extent of giving someone their marching orders for consistently failing to wear proper protective gear, even after a series of warnings.

Makes me glad I work in a nice warm, non-moving office where the biggest threat is tripping over an ethernet cable..

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Re: More than reported here?

"Even to the extent of giving someone their marching orders for consistently failing to wear proper protective gear, even after a series of warnings."

He'd have to do that to protect himself. If there was an accident, your brother could still be deemed liable, and the insurance validity could be in question

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Re: More than reported here?

"A fall while wearing a Harness & Lanyard can cause suspension trauma, which can be fatal if not rescued quickly enough. Do not use a harness while working alone."

Are you being serious? Suspension trauma CAN be fatal, so you'd rather take the risk and hit the ground?

By this logic car seatbelts CAN cause injury and entrapment in a crashed car... Let's take our chances by going through the windscreen instead..

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Re: More than reported here?

"And frankly, should your number come up, I imagine you won't be missed."

Don't worry, you'll probably go before I do. I won't be sending flowers.

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Re: More than reported here?

"Perhaps you should go back to reading the Daily Mail,"

I did wonder how long it would be before some hanky flapping ponce mentioned it in their cliche ridden putdown. There should be an equivalent of Godwins Law for it.

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Re: More than reported here?

"Thats a bit like saying the police are to blame for someone dying in a car crash due to not wearing a seat belt because they didn't enforce the seatbelt law strictly enough"

Not true, first of all the police do enforce that law and will pull any one caught doing it and fine them.

In this case the company need to prove that they provided the training and equipment for the employee and did enforce good safe working practice's (IE reprimanding people not complying with policy).

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Re: More than reported here?

"And that sums up the child like mentality of people today who also want to treat everyone else like children."

I don't let my children on the roof without harnesses.

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Re: More than reported here?

"Makes me glad I work in a nice warm, non-moving office where the biggest threat is tripping over an ethernet cable.."

Those cables should be covered. ;)

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Re: More than reported here?

Makes me glad I work in a nice warm, non-moving office where the biggest threat is tripping over an ethernet cable..

Which is completely inexcusable (if you aren't being facetious). Trip hazards are the number one cause of nontrivial office-environment injuries. Tell them to get longer cables and/or properly placed outlets, so that no cables are strung across places people walk. Do this before somebody trips and is hospitalized.

If you are obstructed by some sort of penny-pinching or IT-rule-following, this is the time that your Health and Safety department or person comes in useful. Or the union, if its that sort of workplace.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More than reported here?

why are they spending on three weeks worth of lawyers, rather than what I suspect wuld be the considerably cheaper option of admitting "yes, not worth disputing this, our fault" and paying the fine and compensating the poor chap for his broken ankles

Perhaps because they know it was the fault of the technician for not respecting his training, and they don't want to open the doors to a flood of complaints from other careless workers, encouraged by ambulance-chasing "personal injury" lawyers? We won't know until the trial starts.

It's many years since I worked for BT, but their ongoing training for health & safety, and absolute insistence on safe working procedures, wasn't something I could ever have reproached them for. I still have my hard hat, and I've never worked anywhere but an IT office...

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Re: More than reported here?

Is it really OK to say "he brought it upon himself"?

Of course not, but neither is it OK to say "someone has to pay". Sometimes all you can do is recognise that processes need to change in the future to stop it happening again.

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