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Working at dangerous heights & Injury at work

The role of the HSE is two fold; it can prosecute offending companies for breaches of health & safety and it can also immediately prohibit a company from further work until a breach is rectified.

In recent circumstances where a scaffolder had breached a number of health and safety measures both sanctions were imposed.

The scaffolder had been carrying out work in Cornwall in March 2012 when he and his employees were found to be operating without any edge protection or harnesses, which meant they were in danger of suffering Serious Injury if they fell.

After witnessing the way in which the team was working, an inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a Prohibition Notice, which meant that work could not be carried out until the safety provisions were improved. Further, following prosecution, the scaffolder was found to have acted in an unsafe manner on other sites and so was fined £8,000 and made to pay £4,114 in costs.

Falls from height remain the largest cause of Fatal Accidents and serious injury in the construction industry. In this particular case it was considered that the scaffolder had adopted a cavalier approach to the health and welfare of his workers by demonstrating not only a blatant disregard for them, but also members of the public who could have been walking by.

The risks of working at height are widely known and there is much guidance available from HSE and the industry generally. For example, the erection of scaffolding should only ever be carried out by competent individuals, and there should always be someone supervising. Also, where it is practical to do so, scaffolders should ensure that an advanced guard rail system is in place, as this allows temporary guard rail units to be locked in place from the level below and moved up to the platform level. Alternatively, workers can be supplied with harnesses, which will offer protection in the event of a fall.

A case I recently settled was concluded against 4 defendants in circumstances where the first defendant had constructed a roof on an industrial site, and the second defendant had engaged a third defendant as principal contractor to erect factory units at the site. A third defendant had subcontracted all roofing works to the first defendant. The fourth defendant was engaged by the third defendant as a specialist scaffolding contractors to provide all scaffolding, including safety nets, on site.  

The third defendant was convicted at a local (North West) Magistrates Court of a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in a prosecution brought by the HSE, where, as in the case of the scaffolder above, a HSE Inspector had seen the dangerous site whilst passing through the by train.

Our case was that, when working on the roof, our client was moving a roof panel when he slipped and fell. He slid through a gap between the edge of the roof and first guard rail running around the perimeter of the fence. Our client was unable to prevent himself from falling from the roof by virtue of there being no safety measures in place. He fell a considerable distance onto a brick wall, before hitting the ground. Several medical experts were involved in our case because of the various injuries sustained.

The case settled for a sum of £150,000 on the basis of the injuries sustained and our client’s financial losses, where a sum for loss of future business was also claimed by virtue of his fear of working at height in the years ahead. Effectively, our client had to change his business.

These types of claims can be complex by virtue of the number of defendants involved because of the nature of the construction industry, and the number of injuries sustained as a result of the distance that a claimant can fall. It is therefore always important to seek the advice of specialist solicitors when seeking representation for such a claim.

By Personal Injury Solicitor Tracey Graham.

Read more about starting your Building Site Accident Claim.

Read more about Health & Safety Claims and Serious Injury Claims.