A workman was left hanging by his fingertips 120 feet above the ground after a contractor failed to install safety mechanisms on a scaffolding lift.

Tim O'Donnell, 33, pictured, today told how he feared for his life as a ramp leading on to scaffolding at a block of high-rise flats gave way.

Ashtead Plant Hire, the firm responsible for the ramp, was yesterday fined a total of £10,500 after it admitted two breaches of health and safety regulations at Bingley Magistrates' Court. Presiding magistrate Jane Dunn said it was due to a "large amount of good fortune" a fatality was averted.

But speaking after the case, Mr O'Donnell, of Carr Lane, Shipley, condemned the fine as "derisory". He said: "It seems to me that they have only got half a fine because I didn't die. They are a huge national company, and £12,000 is just a drop in the ocean to them."

The firm admitted it did not install safety equipment, failed to carry out checks and forged documents to the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr O'Donnell said since the fall, he and his business partner - who was with him on the scaffolding when the incident happened - have not been able to work on high-rise flats.

Mr O'Donnell, who is married with two young children, recalled how the ramp gave way as he stepped through a gate from the hoist on to the scaffolding. He was forced to cling on to a mesh fence with one hand as his friend and colleague looked on in horror.

"It all happened so quickly," he said. "I didn't appreciate how high it was until I was back on the ground afterwards. My partner thought I was gone, but I refused to look down and just scrambled back up.

"It brings it home how close you can come to death in just a millisecond. It was like standing on a hangman's trapdoor."

Magistrates were told that the accident took place during a refurbishment of the flats in Crosley Wood Road, Bingley, last year.

Chris Smith, prosecuting for the HSE, condemned the firm for ignoring repeated warnings about the equipment from engineers and workers at the site and for failing to ensure an independent inspection was carried out.

Ashtead Plant Hire, of Surrey, was fined £8,000 for failing to install the hoist safely and £2,500 for neglecting to ensure an independent inspection was carried-out on the equipment. It was also ordered to pay £1,465 costs.

John Cook, mitigating, said the safety of the hoist was the responsibility of Graham Clarke, area manager of the firm's Tamworth-based department. Mr Cook said Mr Clarke, who has since been sacked for gross misconduct, knew of the problems but failed to act and was later responsible for forging the safety documents.