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Lack Of Safety Inspections Lowers The Bar On Scaffold Accident Risk

People working on a construction site
17th December 2013

A remark heard fewer times at a bus stop these days refers to waiting for ages and then three buses, all with the same number, turn up at the same time. In the roll call of workplace accidents and injury claims a collapsing scaffold is less common than the slip, trip and fall from height but sometimes it seems, they too, come along in a grisly group.

It has actually been estimated that every year in the UK a staggering 4,500 injuries and around fifty fatalities are reported as a result of an accident involving a faulty scaffold, causing the loss of 90 million working days.

Two cases involving scaffolds recently came to court, one of which actually involved a fall from height from a scaffold. A number of accident compensation cases often arise from either a lack of adequate scaffold protection or risk assessment by small roofing companies.


In the first case, which occurred at a building demolition site nearby to a nursery and local schools in the London Fulham area, a 16-metre length of scaffolding collapsed and fell from the first floor level to the ground below, covering the pavement and an entire traffic lane.

A subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation discovered that the scaffold had actually been left free-standing on the building site for a year and long after the demolition had been completed. In addition, the site had been left unattended for long periods and regular safety inspections of the scaffold had not been carried out.

The firm responsible was found guilty of a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and fined a total of more than £17,000 with costs.

Failure to arrange protection

A much larger fine of more than £100,000 with costs was imposed in the second case where a death was caused by an employee falling 13 metres through the skylight of a warehouse roof while dismantling a scaffold in Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

In this particular instance, it was found that the 42 year old victim, who originally helped to erect the scaffold, was actually employed as a labourer (not a scaffolder) on his return to help dismantle the scaffold at the completion of the job.

At the court hearing it was revealed that despite the presence of 80 fragile skylights - each measuring around one metre by two metres - the company had failed to arrange for covers to be laid on the nearest skylights to where employees might accidentally step and fall through the glass.

Prosecuted for single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £31,517 in costs.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 places duties on employers, the self-employed, and any person that controls the work of others to ensure:

• All work at height is properly planned and organised.
• Those involved in work at height are competent.
• The risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.
• The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled.
• Equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.