A Salford firm has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a canal boat owner sustained a fatal head injury following a fall from height.

Richard Ferris, aged 66, had taken his narrow boat to a dry dock on the Bridgewater Canal in Salford, to carry out some maintenance work to the underneath.

On 26 May 2010 Mr Ferris was getting off his boat via a wooden plank known as a youngsmans board. As he stepped on the plank it started to move, he lost his balance and fell nearly 2.5 metres onto the concrete floor of the dry dock.

Mr Ferris suffered serious head injuries and died in hospital later that day.

The HSE investigating the accident found that the youngsmans board was unsecured. The company has since taken measures to ensure all planks at the boatyard are secured and have handrails.

Worsley Dry Docks Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for failing to provide suitable access to users of the dry docks. The company was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £15,185 in costs at Manchester Crown Court.

Unsecured board was wholly inadequate

The HSE, investigating inspector, Philip Strickland said: “Richard Ferris was experienced in boating and from time to time had piloted pleasure cruisers along the Manchester Ship Canal.

“But when he and his wife took their canal boat to the dry dock to carry out maintenance work, they relied on the owner of the dock to make sure they could do this safely.

“Having an unsecured board was a wholly inadequate way of accessing boats at the dry dock, given boat owners regularly used it to walk above a concrete pit several metres below.

“If a secured gangplank with a handrail had been in place at the time Mr Ferris was using the dock then his life could have been saved.”

Imogen Wetton, a solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ Serious Injuries Team said: “It should not have to take a death for an organisation to comply with the law and make walkways and workplaces safe. Unsecured planks are clearly dangerous. This tragic but wholly preventable accident should provide a lesson to similar companies across the country, so tragic accidents such as this will not happen again.”