A CONSTRUCTION firm has been ordered to pay more than £45,000 after a two-tonne concrete slab dropped onto a crow bar - causing it to fly up and hit a worker in the face.

Family-run Walter Thompson (Contractors) Ltd was the main contractor on an £11m luxury spa extension at Ramside Hall Hotel, near Durham, when project manager Paul Powton was injured.

The Northallerton-based company was fined £33,000, with £12,552 prosecution costs, following the accident on December 15.

However, Durham Crown Court heard that the Northallerton-based company would taken disciplinary action against Mr Powton over the December 15 accident had he not resigned.

David Brooke, prosecuting, said that by December 2014 problems arose involving the laying of two pre-cast concrete slabs, weighing two tonnes each, following a change of design.

He said that experienced project manager Paul Powton asked his bosses to authorise different ways of resolving the delay, but that the responsibility seemed to fall on him.

He and a colleague decided to use chain blocks to lift the slabs into place, helped by two scaffolders - but as the top slab was being moved, it dropped onto the crow bar Mr Powton was using to lever it into place.

The crow bar sprang up and hit him on the jaw and face - causing him to briefly “black out”.

Mr Brooke said Mr Powton was also treated in hospital for pelvic and lower back pain and also lost a tooth, requiring dental surgery.

In his victim statement, 44-year-old Mr Powton said it resulted in some “cognitive impairment”, including memory loss.

He later left Walter Thompson and has since found similar work with other companies.

But the court heard that Mr Powton said the accident also had a psychological impact, resulting in a loss of confidence at work, anxiety and nerves, as well as problems of memory loss.

Mr Brooke said the moving of the slabs was abandoned and a health and safety report into the accident found the task had not been properly risk assessed and was “poorly planned”.

He added that a company investigation found that one cause was “time pressure” caused by the construction being out of sequence, but that there had been “a substantial response” by the company to the accident.

Walter Thompson (Contractors) Ltd admitted a single charge in contravention of design and management regulations under the Health and Safety Act.

Oliver Campbell QC, for the firm, said: “At the outset, the company would like to express genuine remorse in relation to its failings and the accident to Mr Powton. It’s a matter of considerable regret that one of its employees should be injured at work.”

But he said the company “places significant emphasis” on health and safety, and this was its first ever prosecution in almost 100 years of existence.

The site had passed its monthly health and safety audit by independent inspectors only a fortnight before the accident.

He described it as “an isolated error” on an otherwise “well-run and properly managed site”.

Mr Campbell said that had Mr Powton not resigned his position he may have been disciplined, but would not have been dismissed, because he was “generally well regarded” by management.

He said the company also disputed Mr Powton’s level of injury, which will be resolved as part of a future civil court claim.

Imposing the fine, Judge Christopher Prince agreed that it was “an isolated failing” against an otherwise “exemplary” safety record.

He said the company, which he said had “a previous positive good character” had “promptly remedied the problems”.

The company was given until January 20 to pay the £45,552 court bill.