Firefighter in whiplash accident at work

A standard training exercise led to a firefighter suffering from whiplash injuries after his employers ignored important health and safety advice.

James Attenborough, a Fire Brigades Union (FBU) member from Kings Langley in Hertfordshire, still suffers from neck pain after the accident which happened during a rope training exercise for Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The firefighters were trying out new equipment on the drill tower during which the firefighters were lowered on a harness to the ground to simulate the rescue of a casualty. Mr Attenborough was being pulled back up the tower when he was dropped a short distance on three occasions causing his head to snap back, he went to hospital where he was treated for whiplash and shoulder injuries.

The fire service had previously been warned by a specialist fire safety trainer to ensure light weight climbing helmets were used during the exercise but none were provided on the day. Instead participants had to wear their heavier standard issue fire helmets. In addition to these failures, those providing the rope training had not been fully trained in the safety and equipment requirements for the drill.

Following the accident Mr Attenborough contacted the FBU which instructed its lawyers to pursue compensation on his behalf.

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service admitted liability and settled with Mr Attenborough out of court, the amount of compensation awarded is undisclosed.

Mr Attenborough said: “My neck has not yet fully recovered but I am back at work. It does get stiff at times and I have to be careful. I decided to get in touch with my union because I was concerned this type of accident would happen to someone else. We should be using the correct equipment at all times to ensure our safety and the safety of those we are trying to rescue. I felt the only way I could get this message across was by taking legal action. Fortunately we now have the correct equipment.”

Tony Smith from the FBU said: “This incident shows how important it is for employers to carry out a risk assessment and then to put it in action. The potential for this type of accident had already been highlighted to the Fire Service but no lightweight helmets were provided to prevent it from happening.”

Rachel Bayliss who represented Mr Attenborough: “The Fire Service was in breach of work equipment regulations and failed to properly consider the risks involved in carrying out this training. They also provided the client with the wrong equipment, contrary to advice and training that had actually been provided to the Service by a specialist fire safety trainer.”

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