ARK Housing Association fined £75k over man’s burns

Joseph Hobbin died at St John's Hospital. File picture: Ian Georgeson
Joseph Hobbin died at St John's Hospital. File picture: Ian Georgeson
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A SCOTS housing association has been fined £75,000 after a disabled man suffered horrific burns after being scalded in a bath.

Joseph Hobbin – who suffered from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy – was left in agony after his feet were plunged into a hot water bath.

Mr Hobbin was being put into his bath by an ARK Housing Association employee at his home in Haddington, East Lothian, when he suddenly suffered an epileptic fit.

As the carer attempted to control Mr Hobbin’s movements the elderly man’s feet dropped into the scalding water.

The 60-year-old was rushed to hospital for treatment for injuries which were said to have left the elderly victim with “the skin falling off his feet”.

Mr Hobbin, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday just weeks before the incident, sadly passed away in hospital two weeks later after suffering “complications of scalding”.

The Edinburgh-based housing association had previously admitted two charges of corporate negligence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and representatives appeared at the court yesterday (WED) for sentencing.

ARK pleaded guilty to failing to provide adequate training and supervision to their employees, and failing to adequately assess the risk of scalding presented by bathing its residents by which Joseph Hobbin sustained scalding injuries to his body on June 26, 2013, and as a result died.

Sheriff Norman McFadyen said that though Mr Hobbin had suffered “catastrophic injuries” he considered the incident to be an “isolated failing” on the part of ARK.

The court was told Mr Hobbin had been under the care of the housing association for 16 years prior to his death in July 2013 and received round-the-clock, one-to-one support.

Depute fiscal Helen McCannell said the elderly resident was “almost entirely non-verbal in his communication” and enjoyed taking a bath every day as it “helped him to calm down” as he could become agitated.

Ms McCannell said: “On the date of the incident the Ark Housing Association employee was to assist Joseph to the bathroom at around 7.45am. He prepared the bath using mainly hot water and added a little cold and it was described as being three quarters full.

“Joseph was assisted from the toilet to the bath seat. The support worker assisted Joseph by lifting his legs over the side of the bath and at that point Joseph suffered a prolonged epileptic fit.”

Ms McCannell said the support worker then struggled to control Mr Hobbin by attempting to support his head before the elderly resident’s “legs came into contact with the water, which was scalding”.

The fiscal added that by the time the support worker managed to summon help and eventually drain the bath “the skin was falling off Joseph’s feet and nearly bleeding”.

The victim was rushed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary before being transferred to the burns unit at St John’s Hospital, in Livingston where he died on July 10, 2013.

Ms McCannell added a subsequent Health and Safety Executive report was “critical of Ark Housing Association Ltd and highlighted staff did not receive training or instruction in relation to bath and shower temperature”.

Paul Gray QC, representing Ark Housing Association, said his client, a not-for-profit health organisation, currently had more than 1000 employees who provide “invaluable specialised support to some of the most vulnerable adults in society”.

Mr Gray added since Mr Hobbin’s death the registered charity has implemented a wide range of improvements to its service including increasing relevant employee training, the introduction of thermostat mixer valves and conducting regular audits and inspections.

In sentencing, Sheriff McFadyen said: “The water was clearly far too hot and Mr Hobbin sustained the injuries which he succumbed to two weeks later.

“The company had a blind spot regards to scalding and that requires to be reflected in the penalty imposed.”

Sheriff McFadyen sentenced ARK to pay a fine of £75,000.

Ark Housing Association was founded in 1997 by a group of Edinburgh parishioners and has since grown into one of the country’s largest providers of care for people with learning difficulties and others with complex and enduring needs.

Jane Grey, Ark Housing Association chief executive, said: “Our deepest sympathies once again go out to Joseph’s family and friends.

“This was a tragic accident which we deeply regret, Ark has been honest and open and admitted liability. My personal apologies and sympathies were conveyed personal to the family when I met with them shortly after his death.”

Ms Gray added the association had “co-operate fully” with the Health and Safety investigation and have taken steps to prevent any further incidents by installing temperature controlled mixer valves in homes and supplied thermometers to its staff.

Mr Hobbin’s family were approached but did not wish to comment.