‘Failures’ over three decades led to falling shop sign tragedy

Margaret Sheridan was praised as a much loved and well respected worker, including by local author Pete Shelton (pictured) whom she helped to launch his book
Margaret Sheridan was praised as a much loved and well respected worker, including by local author Pete Shelton (pictured) whom she helped to launch his book
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An investigation into the death of a Blackpool book-seller has found flaws going back over three decades may have contributed to the tragedy.

Margaret Sheridan died in January 2015 after she was struck by a sign which fell onto her causing fatal injuries.

Mark English, store detective at B&M Bargains on Bank Hey Street, lays flowers for Margaret Sheridan, who died when a shop sign fell on her. Mr English tried to save her but her injuries were too severe.

Mark English, store detective at B&M Bargains on Bank Hey Street, lays flowers for Margaret Sheridan, who died when a shop sign fell on her. Mr English tried to save her but her injuries were too severe.

Mrs Sheridan, 68, from Singleton, was closing the Waterstones store on Bank Hey Street at the end of the day on January 12 and attempting to lower the roller shutter when the large structure crashed down on her.

A jury inquest earlier this year returned a verdict of accidental death, but health and safety chiefs are now urging other businesses to ensure they carry out proper maintenance of their signs.

Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “Blackpool Council along with the Health and Safety and Executive and Lancashire Police carried out a full investigation into the circumstances around Mrs Sheridan’s tragic death.

“While the investigations found that no-one was to blame it is still important to look to see if there is anything that business owners in Blackpool could learn from this terrible accident.

While the investigations found that no-one was to blame it is still important to look to see if there is anything that business owners in Blackpool could learn from this terrible accident.

“As the circumstances do not appear to show a single design type flaw, more a sequence of events over time, there is no single solution.

“However we have pledged to carry out a number of actions including reminding those businesses of their obligation to maintain premises and signage in a safe condition and ensure that any alterations are assessed for safety.”

A report submitted to the inquest by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said an original “much lighter” sign had been fixed to the building prior to 1980 using 10 woodscrews and a vertical stud.

It is believed the sign was made unsafe by the addition “of a larger and much heavier sign”, also installed prior to 1980, but the installers relied on the fixings of the original sign.

The Waterstones area is cordoned off while the debris is cleared

The Waterstones area is cordoned off while the debris is cleared

When later additions were made, it was difficult to check the fixings because of the design of the second sign.

The report added the sign fell because the timber holding the screws could “no longer withstand the loads”.

Over the years the fixings had been overloaded and weakened by corrosion.

The HSE could not say why the sign had fallen at the moment it did.

They concluded that while the installers of the latest sign should have checked the strength of the existing sign before adding to it, the additional weight being added at that stage was relatively small.

Thus “it would not be unexpected if they assumed that their panels could be added safely.”

Following the inquest Blackpool Coroner Alan Wilson wrote to the chief executive of Blackpool Council to highlight the findings.

In response, the council’s health and safety enforcement team, liaising with other authorities, set out an action plan which included informing relevant businesses of the incident and the reasons for it.

Organisations have been reminded of their obligation to maintain premises and signage in a safe condition, and warned that failure to do this will lead to “robust action.”

Mrs Sheridan’s family said they welcomed the publication of the report but did not wish to comment any further.

A spokeswoman from Waterstones said: “Margaret remains in our thoughts.”