Fatal slip 'caused by wet floor'

A SLIP triggering a chain of events which led to the death of a teaching assistant could have been caused by splashes or a thin film of water on a floor, it has emerged.

Laurence Cawley

A SLIP triggering a chain of events which led to the death of a teaching assistant could have been caused by splashes or a thin film of water on a floor, it has emerged.

Andrea Norris was working as a learning support assistant at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds when she slipped and injured her leg on January 30 this year, the inquest was told.

When the 23-year-old, of Semer Close, Stowmarket, was taken to West Suffolk Hospital, medical staff told her she had a sprain. It was six days before the excruciating pain in her leg was correctly diagnosed as a broken leg. Within three weeks of the accident in kitchens at the college, the bride-to-be collapsed, stopped breathing and died of a deep vein thrombosis.

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The jury at an inquest into her death returned a verdict of accidental death.

A full transcript of the case, released by Greater Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean, shows how Andrea had told family members and her GP that she had slipped on a “wet floor” in the practice kitchen where she had been working with students with learning disabilities.

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Her fianc�, Robert Stanton, said Miss Norris had told him that the floor of the kitchen at the time of her fall was wet and that no “wet floor” warning sign had been put out. He said he understood that the reason the floor was wet was because it had been cleaned.

Dr Daniel Knowles, a GP trainee in the accident and emergency department of the West Suffolk Hospital, said: “She told me initially that she slipped on a wet floor and fell, twisting her knee.”

During the inquest, Miss Norris's colleague, tutor Carol Checkley, who was present when she fell, confirmed there could have been a thin film of water on the Altro-surfaced floor because it had been cleaned five or ten minutes earlier.

College health and safety manager Margaret Webb said that when she arrived there had been splashes of water near the sink. She added that although there had been falls in the busier “production kitchen”, there had been none in five years in the “practice kitchen”, where Miss Norris had fallen.

Martin Kneebone, inspector for the Health and Safety Executive, said the kitchen area was “obviously kept to a very high standard”.

He said: “It's a working environment. I think they are trying to achieve what they can achieve, which is what is reasonably practicable, which is what the law demands them to do, but it is a working environment, there are people in there, they are washing up, there's an activity going on; so I think there are bound to be some splashes, but provided it is cleaned up, that's the best you can achieve really.”

The coroner said he would ask managers at Ipswich and West Suffolk hospitals to review the transcript of the inquest and their guidelines for dealing with calls from concerned patients or relatives, after it emerged that medics did have an opportunity to recall Andrea for further examination following a change in her symptoms in the days before her death. He also called on them to make sure there was “sufficient awareness” of the risk of DVTs in certain circumstances. He said Andrea's family should have received a more “appropriate response” from Ipswich Hospital, to which she had been referred, after raising fears about her symptoms.

Dr Dean recorded the verdict of accidental death, following a slip in the practice kitchen on January 30.

“Andrea was very, very unfortunate in sustaining a very rare complication, after a relatively minor knee injury”, he said.

“Through the inquest and through the comments of the family we have had a sense of Andrea herself and the very high regard in which she was held.”

Miss Norris had first attended the college in 2001, as a student, aged 16, and successfully trained in catering and hospitality, gaining a BA Honours degree in business management last year.

Andrea's family are raising money for the East Anglian Children's Hospice, through Justgiving.com, in her memory. Donations using Giftaid can be made at any EACH Charity shop - a new one opened in Stowmarket last week. Proceeds from this fund will be used specifically for music therapy.

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