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Fatal Fall From Scaffolding Without Adequate Safety Protection

Massive building in construction
25th November 2013

Between 2011 and 2012, around 500,000 working days were lost by a fall from height (self-reported, non-fatal injury in the workplace, source: Labour Force Survey). During the same 12 month period, of a total of 22,433 major injuriesrecorded in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Annual Report, 40 per cent involved slips or trips while 14 per cent were falls from height, indicating some 3,140 incidents or more than 8 falls every single day of the year.

Since the Work at Height Regulations came into force on 6 April 2005, duties have been placed on employers, the self-employed, and any person who controls the work of others to ensure “all work at height is properly planned and organised, the risks assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.” Yet falling from height continues to be a consistently reported accident claim.

In many cases an accident was entirely preventable if time had been taken to both plan and supervise the work being carried out and adequate protection (and training) provided.

In a recent case heard at Liverpool Crown Court, a 68 year old joiner fatally fell nearly 20 feet (six metres) from scaffolding, which a HSE investigation later found to be dangerous and lacking in key safety requirements.

Lacking guard rails and decking

The scaffolding, which had been constructed at a Skelmersdale house extension by a St Helens firm, lacked any guard rails and contained insufficient decking. The self-employed joiner had been working on the roof trusses when he lost his footing and fell, sustaining fatal head injuries.

In addition to inadequate safety provision, HSE subsequently discovered that the firm’s employees were also not trained in safety procedures nor were any risk assessments or method statements prepared in advance. The company was found guilty of two separate breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined a total of £252,145.

Unannounced HSE visits find significant failings

During 2013, HSE inspectors conducted more than 400 unannounced construction site visits over two separate month-long campaigns, in which both general and specific safety procedures were inspected. While inspections were focused on checking correct procedures in known high-risk activities, such as working at height, provision of protective equipment welfare facilities and general ‘good order’, low standards were most evident in the following specific areas:

  • Failures to properly protect workers during construction activities at height.
  • Inadequate site management.
  • Exposure to dangerous types of dust.
  • Inadequate washing facilities.

Simple changes to working practices can save lives

During a previous round of unannounced visits in 2011, HSE found a quarter of Merseyside's construction sites failed safety inspections during the first two days of inspections. Of the 88 site visited, 21 sites did not meet legally-required health and safety standards.

According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005, duty holders must “use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height” and where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, “use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.”

In addition, the Regulations include schedules, which state the requirements for existing places of work and means of access for work at height, collective fall prevention (e.g. guardrails and working platforms), collective fall arrest (e.g. nets, airbags etc), personal fall protection (e.g. work restraints, fall arrest and rope access) and ladders.

According to the HSE inspectors,  "In many cases simple changes to working practices can make all the difference, and can even save lives...”