Care home operator fined following death of resident

A Hertfordshire care home operator has been fined after a resident with clinical dementia was suffocated by an unsecure wardrobe.

Mrs Claire Hughes, 64, died as a result of compression asphyxia following the incident at The Chase Care Home in Printers Avenue, Watford, on 23 December 2011.

The home was run by Borehamwood-based Life Style Care PLC, which was sentenced today (28 August) after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified safety failings.

St Alban’s Crown Court heard that Mrs Hughes suffered from a form of dementia that led to an obsession with clothing and a need to wear excessive layers. As a result the wardrobe in her room was locked to prevent her gaining access to the clothes inside.

On the morning of her death, she was alone in her room and had attempted to open the wardrobe door when she pulled it over on top of her, rendering her unable to breath. She was found when staff next checked on her and an ambulance was called, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

HSE established that the wardrobe had been attached to the wall before Mrs Hughes became a resident at the home. However, the screws used did not penetrate into the blockwork of the building, so they were not adequate to prevent someone pulling it over.

The HSE investigation concluded that although the care home was aware of Mrs Hughes’ obsession with clothing it had failed to ensure the fixings used to attach the wardrobe to the wall were of a suitable standard, and neither had it provided any information, instruction or training for the maintenance manager in how to carry out the work on the wardrobe.

The company, of Regent House, Allum Gate, Theobald Street, Elstree & Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, was fined a total of £85,000 and ordered to pay a further £48,000 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing HSE Inspector Sandra Dias, said:

“Mrs Hughes’ death was a wholly preventable tragedy caused by unacceptable management failings on the part of Life Style Care PLC. They put her at unnecessary risk.

“The company was aware of her obsession with clothing and that is why they locked her wardrobe. In doing so it was eminently foreseeable that she would attempt to open it using force, and that the wardrobe therefore needed to be rigid and secure.

“Working in a care home is a specialised job, which involves dealing with vulnerable people. Care homes must ensure that they have the correct training in place for all their employees, and that they work to adequately assess and eliminate all significant risks.”

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