There is no item in your cart
A main contractor’s prosecution following an engineer’s roof
fall shows work at height risk management still needs improvement, says Gary
Last month’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecution of a principal contractor following a ladder fall has again highlighted the urgent need for better planning from employers when managing working at height.
London contractor Modus Workspace was fined £1.1m at Luton
Crown Court after an engineer, who was testing a sprinkler system for leaks at
a site in Hemel Hempstead, fell when the ladder slipped away from him and he
dropped almost 3m into a gap between the internal roof and the external wall.
The worker suffered severe blood loss, amounting to around
half of his bloodstream. He required a blood transfusion, needed 14 stitches to
his head, sustained fractured vertebrae and suffered soft tissue damage.
In this case, HSE investigators discovered that the
principal contractor had failed to take reasonably practicable measures to
prevent a fall for both the engineer and other contractors working on the roof.
There are still far too many fatalities and accidents caused
by working at height in construction. According to HSE RIDDOR statistics, just
under half (49%) of all fatalities in construction over the last five years
were due to falls from height. The same mistakes are repeated time and time
Lessons to learn
So, what lessons can we learn from cases like this one? We
know that falls from height are often due to a lack of management control over
- Who carries out the works at height;
- Establishing what training is required; and
- Verifying that those working at height have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience to choose the suitable access equipment and carry out the required task.
How can this be addressed? Firstly, all duty-holders should follow the simple work at height hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for working at height (see below).
Everyone involved with work at height should also understand
the task-relevant safe system of work and the relevant parts of a construction
The work at height hierarchy
- Avoid work at height where you can;
- Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where work at height cannot be avoided; and
- Where you cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall.
Ladders can be a sensible and practical choice for low-risk
tasks, but they should not be chosen purely because they are a quick and easy
option. If a risk assessment shows it is correct to use a ladder, then minimise
the risk by making sure employees have the relevant training required to use
the ladder safely and are fully aware of the risks and measures to help control
Technical tasks, like installing a roof, require an
understanding of the relevant specification, standards, safe working procedures
and practical skillset needed to complete the work to a high standard. This can
all be formally assessed to ensure the person can carry out tasks safely.
Additionally, checks need to be made that it is safe to
access the roof, and a systematic approach should be followed throughout the
installation, with clear communication to employees, contractors and clients
about the safety risks and how best to manage them.
The National Federation of Roofing Contractors now runs an
accredited programme, Roofcert, which aims to give assurance to contractors and
clients that roofing operatives have the up-to-date skills and training that
help mitigate the risks from working at height.
With the right skills and a professional approach, we can
hopefully reduce the number of accidents involving falls from height.
Gary Walpole is health and safety officer at the National Federation of Roofing Contractors