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The inherent dangers of working at height

Posted in: Employer Negligence Workplace Injuries 

Workers across Britain are continuing to suffer serious injury and even death as a result of employers failing to ensure they are sufficiently protected when working at height.

Life-changing injuries

In London a worker suffered severe injuries when he fell through a roof light at a construction site.

He was employed by an interior fit-out company, and was carrying out insulation work on a property redevelopment project when he fell through the roof light and landed on the ground six metres below.

He sustained life-changing injuries, including breaks to three vertebrae, his right shoulder blade and several ribs, and is not expected to be able to return to manual labour.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that hard-board coverings had previously been in place over the roof lights, but these had been removed and replaced with thin plastic sheeting. The investigation also discovered that safety decking, which had been installed under the roof to protect workers, had been taken away before the man started work.

Proper risk assessment is vital

If the company had carried out a proper assessment of the risks, and managed the work more effectively, then the worker would have been spared such a disastrous fall, said HSE.

The company was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £5,347 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 9(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Work at height is inherently fraught with risk, and falls remain the single biggest cause of deaths and serious injury in the construction industry,” explained HSE inspector Peter Collingwood.

It is therefore essential that effective management arrangements are in place to ensure risks are managed and workers are protected. Fragile roof covers provide little or no protection, and should be viewed with the same level of danger as an open void,” he added.

Injury statistics

Falls from height are one the most common cause of workplace fatalities, accounting for almost a quarter of fatal injuries to workers (23%) in 2011/12.

The latest HSE statistics show that 40 workers were killed and more than 3,400 were seriously injured in falls from height during the year.

Fall from height results in skull injury

The risks are further demonstrated by another HSE case, in which a worker in Surrey sustained a severe injury to his skull, again after falling through a roof light.

He was working for a carpentry firm to construct a flat roof on a house build project. The roof contained a number of openings for roof lights and he fell three metres to the ground through one of these holes. He fractured his skull and sustained soft tissue damage to his right hamstring.

The HSE investigation found that once again no measures had been put in place to prevent or mitigate a fall.

The company had apparently received a previous warning from the HSE over the risks posed by falls from height at a different site. On that occasion a Prohibition Notice had been served, stopping work until improvements had been made.

The carpentry company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £4,407 in costs plus a further £5,000 in compensation after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.


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