Too many workers in the UK are continuing to suffer serious injury, or in some cases death, as a result of falls from height. This type of accident is particularly common in the construction sector, where workers on building sites are regularly expected to work several stories above the ground.
The inherent risks involved in working at height are obvious, and there are regulations in place that should help ensure these workers are protected as much as possible.
One of the key pieces of legislation providing this protection is the Work at Height Regulations 2005, in which Regulation 6(3) states: "Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling from a distance liable to cause personal injury."
Unfortunately, however, many employers are still failing to meet their requirements under this regulation and do not provide a safe work environment for their workers when they are required to work at height.
The consequences of this failure can be very serious for workers, who can suffer life changing injuries through no fault of their own. These consequences were clearly demonstrated in a recent case reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in which an apprentice engineer who was working for an air conditioning company ended up with a serious break to his arm after he fell through a fragile plasterboard ceiling.
The worker was only 20-years old at the time, and the break to his left arm was so severe he was unable to work for ten weeks after his fall.
The subsequent HSE investigation found that the worker had been working in the loft space of an office to install an air conditioning system. The company had not provided enough crawling boards to enable him to move about safely, and he was forced to move from joist to joist to avoid standing on the loft floor, which was only plasterboard and would not withstand his weight. Inevitably, he eventually lost his footing and there was nothing to prevent him from falling through the plasterboard and landing on the floor three metres below.
HSE prosecuted the company, which was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £6,600 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Work at Height Regulations.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Chris Wilcox highlighted that the company had failed to plan the piece of work properly, or put in place basic safety measures such as crawling boards or safety decking that would have minimised the risk of a fall.
"The dangers of working at height are well known and this prosecution should serve as a reminder to all contractors to ensure work is properly planned and robust safety precautions are put in place. Employers have a legal duty to manage safety and failing to do so too often ends in tragedy," he said.
Although falls from height are very prevalent in the construction industry, they can also provide a significant risk in other work environments. A Dumfries chemical company was recently prosecuted by the HSE after a 70-year-old worker sustained serious injuries as a result of a fall from a ladder.
The man worked as a pipefitter and had climbed around four metres up a ladder to take measurements for replacement pipework at the company’s animal-rendering plant in Motherwell. Unfortunately, the ladder slipped down the wall, hit a cable tray and bounced back up. The worker was thrown to the ground and hit his head. He suffered bruising to his ribs, a sprained thumb and cut his eye, and was off work for a period of seven weeks.
The HSE inspector investigating the incident highlighted that the injuries could have been a lot more serious if the ladder hadn’t hit the cable tray, which in effect had served to break his fall.
The investigation found the company had failed in a number of ways to provide a safe system for working at height with ladders:
The company was fined £8,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
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