February 23, 2017

Lessons to be learned from working at height legislation breaches

The year has barely got underway and already several companies have received significant fines for breaches of legislation in relation to Working at Height Regulations 2005. Here Moorepay looks at the lessons to be learned and how employers can protect themselves and employees.

Failure to assess risk resulted in worker death

Two companies from Carmarthenshire and the West Midlands have been fined after a worker was killed when he fell from a telehandler. Swansea Crown Court heard how a 50 year old self-employed contractor working for a door engineering company had been contracted to fabricate and install roller shutter doors on an extension to a slipway building at Mustang Marine in Pembroke Dock.

The contractor was working at height with a co-worker on a telehandler when it came into contact with fencing. When the telehandler was released from the obstruction it caused the basket to jerk, throwing both operators from the basket. The contractor was not clipped onto the basket and fell to the ground sustaining fatal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the companies had not properly thought through the risks that could occur with the task. The principal company pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and were fined £125,000 and ordered to pay costs of £43,000.

The door engineering company pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and were fined £1 due to insolvency.

Roof fall led to sky high fines for dairy manufacturer

In another recent case a dairy manufacturer has been fined £400,000 after a worker suffered serious injuries when he fell 15 feet through a fragile roof panel.

The court heard that on the 8th July 2015, a worker was carrying out a routine job with two colleagues to change the refrigeration gas of the chilled storage units at the firm’s premises near Manchester. They were working in the roof void of the chilled store building above the chilled units. One of the workers stood on a fragile fire board panel at the edge of the roof space and fell down the void between the chilled unit and the building shell. He suffered injuries to his head and body.

HSE’s investigation found that the workers had not been given any information from the company about the fragile roof panels in the void, despite having worked there on several previous occasions.

The company had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment prior to permitting access to the area and failed to share information about the presence of the fragile panels prior to the work being undertaken. The fragile panels were not clearly visible, had no warning markings and there were no barriers to prevent access to fragile areas.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £400,000 with £9,336.90 costs.

Lorry fall

An agriculture supply firm has been fined £86,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,363.74 after a worker fell from a lorry in May 2015.

Preston Crown Court heard how the worker was helping move large bulk bags of fertiliser from the quayside to a truck when he fell, fracturing and dislocating his pelvis. He spent several days in hospital after his pelvis was pinned and was unable to return to work for seven months.

After a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company instructed workers to climb onto the bulk bags carrying the fertiliser to help a telehandler hook onto the bags when the task could have been performed from the ground with the right equipment.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6 (2) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Understanding the Working at Height Regulations 2005

Work at height includes any situation where a fall could result in injury, even if that place is below ground.

Employers must do all they can to:

  • avoid work at height, wherever it is reasonably practicable to do so;
  • carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment where work at height may still be required;
  • use measures to prevent falls, if work at height cannot be avoided;
  • where the risk of falling cannot be eliminated, use measures to mitigate the effects of a fall;
  • plan and organise work at height, where appropriate, taking weather and lighting conditions into account;
  • ensure workplaces are safe for work at height to proceed;
  • regularly inspect equipment for working at height and keep accurate up-to-date records;
  • where appropriate ensure risks from fragile roof surfaces are controlled adequately;
  • prevent injuries from falling objects;
  • ensure that those working at height are trained and competent to do so.

The requirements in these regulations are not strictly limited to situations where staff is working at height they also apply to the risks associated with falling objects such as the storage of materials in racks and on shelves and work on mezzanine floors where objects could fall onto persons working below.

What are the risks to employers of failing to properly manage Working at Height?

The potential of serious injury when working at height is clear. Current sentencing guidelines encourage the courts to award fines based on the likely outcome of a breach of regulations. As it is likely that a fall from height could be fatal or result in life changing injuries the fines will tend to be higher for this type of offence.

Other prosecutions in late 2016 saw directors receive prison sentences for Work at Height Offences. The cost of not managing working at height is becoming both an increased risk to businesses and a personal risk to directors or senior managers within a business.

Effective management of Health and Safety should always be a business priority. The increased sentencing of both companies and individuals should prompt business owners and directors to review their arrangements for managing both Safety and Health.

What steps should employers take to manage risks when working at height?

The overriding principle of the Regulations is that where it is reasonably practicable to do so, work at height should be avoided. The hierarchy of controls established by the Regulations states that duty holders must:

AVOID work at height where it reasonably practicable to do so, e.g. by assembly at ground level and (where it is not reasonably practicable to avoid work at height, assess the risks and introduce controls to reduce them to the lowest reasonably practicable level)

PREVENT any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury e.g. by using a scaffold platform with double guard-rail and toe-boards or other suitable Work Equipment

MINIMISE or ARREST a fall with equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, e.g. safety nets, where work at height cannot be avoided or the fall prevented.

Further Guidance can be found on the HRHub – including a Work at Height Decision Tree which can help employers assess and implement the right safety protocols for their situation. Alternatively you can speak to a Moorepay HR advisor on 0845 619 1743.

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About the author

Philip Barker

Philip has worked for Moorepay for over nine years, starting as a Health & Safety Consultant in February 2008 before taking up the position of Consultancy Manager in January 2015. Coming from a retail background, both as a store manager and health & safety professional, he already had a good cross industry experience. Working at Moorepay has provided an opportunity to broaden both knowledge and experience across a wide range of industry sectors. Philip started his health & safety career after a number of years managing retail stores and holds a HNC in Environmental Health Studies, a Diploma in Environmental Policy and a NEBOSH Diploma.