A supervisor who ignored pleas for safety equipment has been sentenced by Durham Crown Court after a young employee was paralysed in a 40ft fall.

Paul Burke, 56, from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, a supervisor for BLS Asbestos Ltd, has been sentenced to pay a £1,000 fine and £9,765.88 in costs by the court for his role in an accident at the Drum Industrial Estate, Birtley in 2011 which left Phillip Giles with tetraplegia.

Phillip, from South Shields, was 23 when he was working on a re-roofing project at the industrial site and fell 40ft through a warehouse roof sky light onto a concrete floor.

Despite raising concerns that other contractors working on the site were using safety harnesses and nets, Phillip was not given any protective equipment or safety training before being sent to remove roof panels at the Rettig UK Ltd site.

He survived the fall but has been left with life-changing injuries. He spent four weeks in a coma and was hospitalised for several months before being discharged to a rehabilitation unit.

He instructed workplace accident specialists Thompsons

Through trade union GMB, he instructed workplace accident specialists Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim against his employers, BLS Asbestos Ltd. Thompsons has obtained a substantial interim payment and a claim for full compensation is ongoing.

Billy Coates, GMB Northern Regional Secretary, said: “The government is undermining the importance of workplace health and safety, making it easier for employers to cut corners and harder for injured workers to hold employers to account.

“GMB is committed to making sure that health and safety legislation sticks and that our members and their families are supported throughout the process. More so than ever before, the role of unions is vital in defending the rights and safety of the UK’s working population, something the government is intent on sweeping under the carpet.”

A young man’s life has been wrecked because basic safety regulations were flouted

Mick Laffey from Thompsons said: “Workers deserve basic legislation to ensure they are not put in harm’s way by their employer, but with government changes already coming into force health and safety in the workplace is slipping lower down the agenda.

“Anyone who thinks that health and safety is a burden on UK business should take a look at Philip Giles to see how a young man’s life has been wrecked because basic safety regulations were flouted.

Complete disregard for basic safety measures

Speaking after the penalty was announced by the Court, Mr Giles said:

“I put my trust in my employer and it was thrown back in my face. I thought that they would give me the equipment to get the job done safely; instead their complete disregard for basic safety measures has changed the course of my life.

“I was working within spitting distance of a roofing contractor that had cherry pickers, safety nets, harnesses, helmets – the lot. That’s how my employers should have done it. Instead I was sent up at height and told to watch my step.

“I’m pleased that someone has taken responsibility for my accident, but I’m concerned that other workers could still be at risk if the company, BLS Asbestos, is not held to account for its part. “