Blind Man Falls Pothole

| General

In the middle of December 2022, the Health and Safety Executive handed down a financial penalty to a business that specializes in the provision of plumbing services. The sanction was imposed in the wake of an incident involving a person from the male demographic who was recorded as being afflicted by sight loss and who inexplicably found himself sustaining a heavy fall into an uncovered manhole. As luck would have it the blind gentleman survived the incident, However, he sustained leg injuries. Due to the serious implications of the incident and to make an example of the provider of plumbing services, the regulator handed down a sanction in the amount of just under five thousand pounds.  

What Happened In The Case?

The incident appears to have taken place at premises that specialize in the housing of a sheltered nature in the county of Aberdeenshire in Scotland and the business was carrying out work to remove an obstruction from the sewerage system in the vicinity of the property. However, those representing the provider of plumbing services had seemingly neglected their duties, accountabilities, and responsibilities to ensure that the entrance to the offending hole was closed and that it could not be accessed by members of the public. This oversight seems to have directly resulted in the gentleman with visual acuity problems sustaining a fall into the hole.  

What Did The Health and Safety Executive Say?

When the regulator looked into what had taken place in this case it struck a derogatory tone about the provider of plumbing service’s conduct in respect of the blind member of the public and it commented as follows: 

  • that the business had neglected its duties to implement risk assessments regarding the uncovered entrance to the manhole
  • in this regard it had derelicted in its responsibilities to put in measures including but not limited to
  • clear signage
  • barriers 
  • safeguarding and
  • precautionary

nature attempting to stop those traveling on foot from both accessing and then subsequently falling into the manhole.  

Feet to the Fire?

After the regulator, the Health and Safety Executive opened its investigation into the circumstances surrounding this event it commented that the businesses had neglected their duty to assess the risk presented by the manhole. When the case was heard in the criminal courts the plumbing business entered admissions to violations of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which places duties on employers to ensure that persons not employed by the business may be put in a situation where they are impacted by its activity are not endangered. As a direct consequence of the plea guilty to the criminal charges related to the health and safety legislation the Sheriff Court sitting at Aberdeen imposed a financial sanction in the amount of just shy of five thousand pounds.   

Lessons Learned?

Professional service businesses specializing in plumbing and other related activities need to be putting control measures and safety procedures in position to reduce the likelihood of incidents such as these occurring. Lawyers advising those businesses operating in this industry should be highlighting facts of the above case to their clients, alerting them to its seriousness and doing all they reasonably can to adhere to section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by:

  • ensuring persons in the vicinity of the work are not placed at unnecessary risk
  • keeping manholes well signed
  • putting barriers in the way of open manholes and
  • positioning precautionary measures to prevent access to manholes 


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[SOURCE 1] Construction Index – Plumbers fined after blind man falls into a manhole – Construction Index - Plumbers fined after blind man falls into a manhole (

[SOURCE 2] Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 

[SOURCE 3] HSE – Protecting the public - Public protection - construction industry health & safety (

[SOURCE 4] HSE – Firm find after blind man falls into an open manhole – 15 December 2022 - Firm fined after blind man falls into open manhole | HSE Media Centre



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