Manchester-based Phil Coppell specialises in conservatory roof installations. On 29 June 2015 two employees were repairing a tiled conservatory roof at a property in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside. The job required them to take off the tiles, peel back a waterproof membrane and replace a piece of plywood that was sagging.
One of the men decided to climb off the roof and access the two bottom rows of tiles from a stepladder below. He was not using a roof ladder and walked across to a corner of the conservatory to get down. He slipped, his foot became caught in the gutter and he fell headfirst on to the stone patio 2.5 m below.
He sustained a bleed on the brain from a fractured skull and a shattered eye socket. He was in hospital for five days and off work for almost four months. He has returned to Phil Coppell but now works in the company’s factory.
“For work on sloping roofs we’d expect to see the use of a cat ladder or a properly constructed roof ladder,” said Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Christine McGlynn. “We would not consider the nature of this work to be short duration work and we’d also expect to see some edge protection, such as the use of a tower scaffold that would have acted as a form of fall protection if the workers had slipped back.”
During its investigation, the HSE found that the victim had had a previous fall while working for the company. In December 2013 he had been working alone when he slipped off a roof and was knocked unconscious. Phil Coppell recorded the accident but did not report it to the HSE under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). In August that same year another fitter broke six ribs when he fell through a conservatory roof light. This incident also went unreported.
The HSE served Phil Coppell with an improvement notice, which it complied with within three months.
The company was fined £40,280 plus £1,465 costs at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court. It pleaded guilty at Bolton Magistrates Court on 4 July to breaching reg 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations, for failing to prevent workers being injured by falls, and reg 3(1) of RIDDOR 1995 and reg 4(1) of RIDDOR 2013, for failing to report an injury as a result of an accident.
The judge assessed Phil Coppell’s culpability as medium and put the offence in Harm Category 2.
In mitigation, the company said that the director whose responsibility it was to handle accidents and investigations had since been dismissed.
“Throughout the investigation the company had suggested that reasonable practicable measures weren’t available and that tower scaffolds wouldn’t be applicable at their sites because of the nature of the build of the conservatories,” McGlynn told IOSH Magazine. “That wasn’t a particularly strong argument on their part because it does appear that there are competitors who do take measures successfully and don’t have this accident rate.”
In the end Phil Coppell designed its own fall prevention barrier for use on conservatory roofs and has applied for a patent, McGlynn said. Made of PVC, the edge protection attaches to a steel frame that is secured to the conservatory ring beam.
The company also retrained all its fitters and introduced a new risk assessment document for remedial work.