Religious Group £500,000 penalty over volunteer fall death
The UK branch of a spiritual organisation headquartered in Bedford has been ordered to pay nearly £500,000 after a volunteer fell nearly two metres from an unsafe scaffold tower and later died.
Science of the Soul was fined £364,000, plus prosecution costs of £117,643 and a victim surcharge of £120, after “covering up” evidence.
Science of the Soul is a charity based in New Delhi, which describes its main objective as promoting brotherhood and communal harmony “for the betterment of humanity”.
Luton Crown Court heard that volunteers had been working on a newly installed electrical system in the main hall of the group’s Haynes Park site, a building owned by landlord Radha Soami Satsang Beas British (RSSB) Isles, a charitable organisation affiliated to Science of the Soul.
On 4 April 2014, Amrik Blaggan was working on a scaffold platform tower, inspecting and reporting on the internal lighting. He was reaching up and outwards to remove ceiling tiles to access the lighting when he fell to the floor, taking the ceiling tiles and metal light fixings with him. The 57 year old volunteer sustained serious head injuries and died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge two days later.
The court heard that police who attended the scene told representatives of Science of the Soul that the scaffolding platform should not be touched under any circumstances because experts would need to examine it.
Central Bedfordshire Council was informed of the fatality on 7 April and officers immediately attended the site. However, they were informed that the scaffold tower had been hired from an external company and had been removed.
Investigators found no evidence that Blaggan had been trained to safely build a scaffold platform, or to work at height in a safe manner.
They also found that the mobile scaffold tower was built in an unsafe manner using inappropriate components; was fitted with inadequate safety barriers to prevent a fall; and no information and instructions were available to assemble it correctly.
The investigation also found that the health and safety supervision was being carried out by another volunteer – an 80 year old man with poor eyesight who was not trained in health and safety.
Council officers also found general poor health and safety on site, with multiple pieces of unsafe machinery and equipment, including another scaffold tower, defective ladders, and unguarded machinery.