Sign maker sent workers back onto unsafe roof after fall
Tuesday 3rd May 2016
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
As we reported last week, Practical Car and Van Rental Chesterfield contracted Sheffield-based Warburton Signs to install a large, lightweight sign to the gable end of an industrial building. Three operators had been assigned to the task and on 13 April 2015 they were fitting wooden batons to the building, to which the sign would be fixed.
The operators were carrying out the work by standing on the flat roof of a small office building that was attached to the main industrial unit. They had decided not to use a cherry picker. "Unfortunately they didn't come to any decisions in regards to how they were going to do the work safely," said HSE inspector Helen Barley.
At the time the worker fell, one of his co-workers was on the ground getting materials from the van. The second was climbing a ladder to access the flat roof. "We'll never really know how he fell," said Barley. "The nature of his injuries means he's lost much of his memory from around that time and he can't recollect the incident."
The Warburton employee fell 5 m, fracturing his skull and spine. He also sustained a collapsed lung and several broken ribs. He has not yet returned to work.
An investigation by the HSE into what happened found the company failed to implement any measures to prevent a fall from height. There was a generic risk assessment, however the work was outside the company's usual remit, so the assessment was inadequate.
"There were a number of opportunities for them to realise that they needed to put preventative measures in place but on each of those opportunities that arose nothing was done about it," Barley said, after she explained that the men visited the Chesterfield site a couple of times before starting the work.
Warburton Signs had only recently started the job when the accident happened and a week later, under the company's instruction, the two uninjured workers returned to the roof to finish fitting the sign. The client then complained about its alignment and the workers climbed on to the roof for a third time to rectify it.
"It was evident that, despite the risk being realised by the accident to the injured person, the necessary measures still hadn't been taken," said the inspector. "That repeated breach was a big concern."
She said the HSE would expect to see "collective prevention measures" at such a worksite, including scaffolding, clip-on edge protection, top and mid rails, and a toe board. "We'd be looking for secure ladder access as well," she added. "They just propped a ladder up against the building to access the roof."
At Chesterfield Magistrates' Court, Warburton Signs pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations, which requires every employer to properly plan and supervise work at height. It was fined £20,000 and a £120 surcharge, plus costs of £1,538.
Under the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety offences which came into force on 1 February, the judge determined that the offence category was "high" and the risk of harm was "harm category 1" (level A seriousness of harm risked, high likelihood of harm). Warburton Signs was considered a micro company, providing a starting point for the fine of £160,000 (ranging from £100,000 to £250,000). The judge reduced the fine to £50,000 when considering proportionality and further reduced it to £30,000. The early guilty plea took the final fine to £20,000.
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Liverpool Magistrates’ Court heard how, after completing the repair on the roof ridge, Ian Kirby stepped onto another roof to remove some debris. He fell through a fragile skylight and landed on a tractor scraper several feet below. Kirby sustained head injuries, a spinal fracture and a broken collar bone and ribs and could not work for six months.
Warburton Signs was contracted to install a large sign to the gable end of a building and, on 13 April 2015, three fitters climbed onto a neighbouring flat roof to erect it. One of the workers fell from the roof and sustained a fractured skull and spine, a collapsed lung, and several broken ribs. Following an investigation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded Warburton Signs had failed to implement any measures to prevent a fall from height.
On 4 November 2014 GFT Frames employee Darren Sheppard, 54, was unloading window frames and carrying them up the structure’s stairwell. There was a ledge that would form the landing half way up the stairs, which had not yet been installed. To access the first floor, Sheppard climbed up through the void and onto the floor from the ledge. As he did he slipped and fell, sustaining a broken thumb and ribs.
Builder C Smith and Sons had been contracted to demolish the structure, which had housed Harvey’s and Carpetright retail stores. The building was due to be demolished remotely with construction plant as this posed the least risk to workers. However, between winning the contract and work starting onsite, the company’s owner Michael Smith decided the structure should be dismantled piece by piece instead.
M J Allen Holdings, a metalwork casting and machinery company, failed to provide suitable work at height equipment and did not offer to train its employees, an HSE investigation found.Canterbury Crown Court heard that on 19 September 2014, the employee was working on the roof of the company workshop when he slipped and almost fell through the roof.