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Lack Of Experience Of Working On Fragile Roofs Caused Life Changing Injuries

16th March 2015

‘Grossly inadequate’ safety precautions led to a cleaning contractor falling 20 feet (6 metres) through a fragile roof-light and suffering permanent injuries.

The victim, a 36-year-old man, was one of a small team sent by a Surrey-based firm to carry out contract cleaning on 24 acrylic roof-lights at a car rental premises in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Stepping inadvertently onto one of the roof-lights, the protective acrylic sheeting gave way, and the cleaner was sent falling through to the concrete floor below.

Suffering a complex fracture to the skull, multiple arm and wrist fractures and several broken ribs, the injured man spent a part of nearly two months in hospital in an induced coma. Life changing injuries caused to the brain also led to a permanent loss of sense of smell and taste, impaired sight in one eye, total deafness in one ear and inability to return to work.

Limited safety measures

Following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it was found that while the cleaner and a colleague had reached the roof using a mobile elevating platform they had taken only six scaffold boards to stand on while jet-washing the roof-flights.

HSE said that the firm should have hired a mobile working platform with an extended reach, which would have made it unnecessary to even go on to the roof. Alternatively, proper crawling boards with handrails and netting inside the building should have been used. However, the firm had no experience of working on fragile roofs, their risk assessment was not fit for purpose and the limited safety measures taken to protect the workforce were grossly inadequate.

At the magistrate’s court, the company  pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Work at Height Regulations and fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay £5,741 including costs.

After the hearing, HSE commented that the claimant had suffered both “life-threatening” and “life-changing” personal injuries, which could have been undoubtedly, fatal.