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Measures not being taken to prevent falls from height

Working at height is a high risk activity that results in a number of serious workplace injuries and fatalities each year – yet proper safety measures are still sadly lacking.

It’s no surprise that around 25 per cent of these accidents occur in the construction industry.

In one recent incident, a plasterer was left with multiple fractures to his head, face, wrists and ribs after falling almost 2.5 metres from an unguarded landing. The plastering contractor in charge of the site had failed to prevent the risk of falling by providing the right safety equipment, such as guard rails which are a well-known safeguard.

Just this month, two firms were sentenced together and fined a total of £310,000 after a worker suffered life changing injuries when he fell through a roof light at a factory in Mirfield, West Yorkshire.

The worker had been on the roof fixing metal cladding to the gable end of an adjoining building when he fell almost 10 metres to the ground. He sustained an open fracture to his femur and multiple fractures to his pelvis, which required extensive surgery.

After the hearing, the Health and Safety Executive inspector commented: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the principal contractor to manage and monitor the works to ensure the correct work equipment was used. This risk was further amplified by the cladding company’s failure to ensure suitable measures were in place to prevent persons falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.”

Farms may not be automatically associated with falls from height. However, last month a farmer was fined £26,000 after a self-employed contractor was fatally injured when he fell through the roof of his milking shed. The contractor had been clearing out the gutter when he fell to his death from a ladder.

An investigation found that the farmer had failed to plan the work properly and did not have any suitable equipment for the contractor to be able to carry out the work safely.

The food and drink industry is another unlikely candidate. Yet, around 20 per cent of fatal accidents in this sector are the result of a fall from height. In addition, around 80 major injuries are reported each year and a further 230 incidents requiring more than 3 days off work are the result of a fall from height.

Diane Parker, personal injury solicitor commented: “Regardless of the place of work, those in control of the activity have a responsibility to devise safe methods of work. All operations requiring work at height must be subject to a risk assessment and proper management of risks. In addition to being provided with appropriate safety equipment, those carrying out the work whether an employee or contractor must be given the necessary information, instruction and training.”

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Falls from height still biggest workplace killer

Although fatal accidents at work are thankfully rare, recent HSE statistics still report that 137 people were killed while going about their daily job during 2016/17.

Falls from height remain the biggest workplace killer, accounting for an average of 40 fatal injuries each year.

There are stringent health and safety rules in place for working at height and breaches can carry extremely hefty fines.

Iceland Foods was recently fined £2.5m for breaching health and safety after a contractor fell from the roof of their Rotherham branch.

The 58-year-old contractor was replacing air conditioning filters above a suspended ceiling in the warehouse when he plunged three meters from a platform that did not have a safety handrail fitted.

Mr Hopkins sustained serious injuries in the fall and later died in hospital.

Whilst a Hull bakery was fined £1m and ordered to pay costs of £30,000 after a self-employed electrical contractor died when he fell from a step ladder.

The contractor was wiring a motor situated above a machine when he fell from the ladder provided by the company, suffering fatal injuries. Hull Crown Court found the bakery guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by failing to properly plan the work place activity, including access arrangements.

Non-fatal falls from height

Non-fatal injuries following a fall from height account for around 43,000 cases each year. Although these obviously have less serious outcomes, they can still result in life changing injuries or lengthy recovery periods.

A construction worker who was installing joists and flooring at a property in Grimsby suffered a serious spinal injury which left him paralysed from the chest down, wheelchair-bound and unlikely to ever work again, after he missed his footing and fell through the gap between the first floor joists. His employer was fined £26,000 for failing to take appropriate measures to mitigate falls.

While locally, an operative replacing the flat roof of a building in Moorends fell after a roofing joist failed. He suffered three cracked ribs and was unable to work for seven months.

His employer, St Leger Homes, responsible for managing Doncaster Council’s 21,000 properties was fined £250,000 after being found guilty of contravening the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

HSE inspector Stuart Whitesmith commented: “Those in control of work at height have a responsibility to ensure that it is properly planned and appropriately supervised to ensure that it is carried out in a safe manner. “

In addition to the fines, personal injury compensation can be pursued by those injured in workplace accidents or by their dependents in fatal cases.

Author: Gail Harris