THREE building firms have been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling more than £230,000 after two workers from Bridgwater were badly hurt in a lift shaft fall.

Ricky Slocombe, 35, and Matthew Blackmore, 29, fell 40ft down the shaft while working on a new build at Exeter University.

The men had stepped on to planking which had been nailed across the fourth floor lift shaft but which was not fixed securely enough to hold their weight.

They suffered serious leg and back injuries as they fell down the entire length of the shaft, crashing through three more sets of shoddy planking in the 2008 incident.

Mr Slocombe broke both legs and has been unable to return to work since, while Mr Blackmore broke his back and was off work for 18 months.

Main contractors Cowlin Construction, site contractors Prestoplan and Bridgwater-based subcontractor Somerset Carpenters all admitted exposing people working at the site to risk to their health and safety at Exeter Crown Court this month.

Cowlin was fined £85,000 with £20,000 costs, Prestoplan £50,000 with £20,000 costs and Somerset Carpenters £35,000 with £22,000 costs.

All were ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.

Recorder Mr Andrew Oldland said the way in which the shaft was secured was inadequate and deficient, and warnings from a safety inspector had not been heeded quickly enough.

He said: “Either or both of these workers could have been killed. The potential for serious injury was great. The danger was not only foreseeable, but obvious. This was a safety structure erected for working at height.

“The companies spent a lot of time and money on safety, and took issues seriously.

They tried to implement protection, but did not do it well enough or fast enough.

“Though fortunately there was not a fatality there was a clear risk of one and two people being seriously injured.”

Barristers representing all three companies said they had learned lessons and changed their procedures, and were committed to a culture of health and safety.