Fines for firm whose workers were injured falling from a height

A firm based in Lichfield in the West Midlands was fined £10,000 in a recent case brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) when they pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Two of their employees were constructing a vehicle spray booth but fell through a fragile roof structure, having received no training in working at a height nor having been provided with suitable safety equipment. The company admitted that they knew in advance that the structure of the roof was insufficient to bear the weight and yet did nothing to ensure the men’s safety.

Long-lasting injuries

One of the men suffered multiple fractures to both heels, meaning that he was in hospital for four weeks and has had to have several operations. He is still (over a year later) on crutches and cannot stand for long periods. As well as this, he is in constant severe pain and the shock of the fall has left him with PST (post-traumatic stress disorder). His colleague suffered multiple spinal and leg injuries and also has nerve damage. He is still undergoing surgeries and had to wear a full body cast for four months. The injuries were certainly not trivial, but could have been yet worse – falls from a height remain one of the main causes of death in the workplace worldwide. In the UK in an average year, seven people are killed through falling through a roof or roof light. One fifth of all the fatal incidents in the workplace are the result of falls from height.

Lack of training was a factor in the accident

When the HSE investigated the accident to the two men, they concluded that lack of risk assessment, correct safety equipment and lack of training were the direct causes of the accident. The company had not visited the site in advance to assess what harnesses were required, although they knew from the materials being used that the resulting structure would be too flimsy to bear a man’s weight. There was also no plan in place which would allow the extractor fans which were part of the task to be fitted without crawling onto the structure. If the men had been adequately trained in working on roofs, the accident would have been completely avoidable. They would have had the necessary knowledge to create a risk assessment and would also have known their rights as employees to expect a reasonable level of care from their employers.

Training courses can be tailored to individual needs

It is not difficult to arrange appropriate training for all employees and as this company has found to its cost, it is simply not sensible to try and save money by not providing health and safety courses. Although the main purpose is to save lives and serious injury, from the bottom line of financial expediency alone, training of all staff in how to assess and then work safely at a height is a must.