April 29, 2013

Farm Manager Fined for Unsafe Working at Height

A Hampshire farmer has been prosecuted for breaching Health & Safety regulations after he was caught on camera using the grain bucket on a telehandler to lift two workers up to a barn roof.

The event was photographed by concerned passersby who then passed these on to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The farm manager was charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the court told that the farm manager had put the men at risk of injury, or even death, by using the bucket to raise them to work on the gable end of the barn.

The farm manager admitted a breach of Section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £330 and ordered to pay £1,757 in costs.

The HSE inspector stated that the farm manager had been given recent training and advice by the HSE and consultants and had the opportunity to use the correct equipment provided by his employer to carry out this job safely. Despite this, he lifted two men several meters in the air using an unsuitable work platform.

This case highlights a number of important points:

Prosecution under Section 7 of the HASAW Act

Section 7(a) of the HASAW Act states: “It shall be the duty of every employee while at work to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts of omissions at work.”

The case shows that managers and supervisors must not do, or fail to do, anything which could endanger themselves or others under health and safety law. Clearly, the farm manager put the two workers in danger by using an unsuitable work platform with inadequate safety controls. The farm manger chose not to apply the training and advice recently provided to him on the subject and made the decision not to use the suitable equipment which was available from his employer.

Short duration work can carry high risks

The HSE inspector stated: “Often people will go about a job believing it will only take a few minutes and will take a risk in the hope that simply being careful will be enough. This display of bad practice could have resulted in serious injury or even death, whether it lasted a couple of minutes or a couple of hours”.

This highlights the need to ensure suitable and sufficient risk assessment of tasks being undertaken and the need to apply adequate controls, irrespective of the duration of the work.

The need to ensure working at height tasks are properly planned and undertaken safely

The HSE inspector also said: “The bucket has no fall protection measures and there is also a risk of being tipped out accidently. If they could not use an authorised work platform specifically designed to lift people and fitted to a telehandler, then they could have used a tower scaffold.”

In a consultative document issued by the Health and Safety Commission, the following issues were identified:

  • ‘Fall from height are the single biggest cause of fatal injuries, and the second biggest cause of major injuries, caused by accidents at work – each year around 50-60 fatalities and 4,000 major injuries are caused by falls at work’
  • ‘Research carried out in support of the Falls from Height Priority Programme has shown that around 60 per cent of all major injuries are caused by falls from height below 2 metres.’

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 came into force on the 6 April 2005. The Regulations apply in relation to work. Requirements are imposed on employers, employees and the self-employed, and any persons under the control of any of the above.

What you need to do to comply (main points)

Reg 4 – Organisation and planning: Properly planned (including the selection of work equipment, Reg 7), appropriately supervised so far as is reasonably practicable carried out in a safe manner. (Note: Emergencies and rescue must be planned for. Other than the emergency services in an emergency, work at height must not be carried out if weather conditions jeopardise the health and safety of persons involved)

Reg 5 – Competence: Provides for persons to gain competence to carry out their work by being trained under the supervision of a competent person. (Note: Reg 13 addresses the requirement to assess capabilities and training)

Reg 6(1) – Risk assessment: Measures for the work to be carried out in a safe manner must be identified with reference to the risk assessment carried out under Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, Reg 3

Reg 6(2) – Avoidance of risks from work at height:  Introduces the hierarchy, avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so

Reg 6(3) – Prevent persons falling ‘a distance liable to cause personal injury’: Collective protection measures must be given priority over personal protection measures

Reg 7 – Work equipment: Outlines the issues to be considered when selecting work equipment for work at height:

  • Measures that will provide protection for all are to be given priority over measures that protect only one person
  • Duration and frequency of use
  • The length and/or height of means of access
  • The consequences of a fall
  • How suitable for emergency evacuation or for rescue

Note: these are the main points only and the full requirements are detailed within the Regulations.

When looking at work at heights, it is important not to view the Work at Height Regulations in isolation. Other employment law legislation needs to be considered in conjunction with it, examples being the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

There is no shortage of available guidance on the ES Gateway and the work at height decision tree provides an overview of how to deal with working at height scenarios, and there is plenty of equipment that can provide safe solutions for work at height.

There is however a lack of awareness of the potential risks and the potential solutions amongst those commissioning the work, those managing or controlling the work, and amongst those carrying out the work. This is illustrated by reference to the number of improvement and prohibition notices being issued, as recorded on the HSE enforcement database.

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