Unsafe ladder use leads to terrible fall


The new HSE guidelines on working at height (which we have just reported on) included clarification on the Executive’s attitude to the use of ladders – they do not forbid it but they want users to be bracing themselves with both legs and either an arm or another part of the body whilst working on a ladder.

The problem of not having true stability is all too clear from this very unfortunate case, which has resulted in a worker becoming paralysed.

Building contractor W Carroll & Sons Ltd of Walton, Liverpool, had been hired for a project to replace the roofs of some 350 properties in the Maghull and Southport areas. The firm subcontracted 20 other workers for the work.

At one, a house in Victory Avenue, Southport, the roofers had to remove old cement sheeting. Because it contained asbestos, it had to be disposed of separately from the rest of the old materials, for which a chute was provided to feed the skip below.

 No safe materials removal

So, on 21st January 2011, Michael Riley (aged 50) had to bag up the asbestos cement material and hold the bag on one shoulder, with his other hand on the ladder. This would normally be an accepted procedure, except for the fact that a bag weighed some 10 kg and could not be tied at the neck so it had to be kept upright. This made the worker top-heavy and his position unstable.

Mr. Riley lost his balance after just a few rungs after he started to descend the ladder. He fell backwards off the ladder and dropped several metres, hit a truck parked adjacent to the scaffold, and fell to the ground.

This caused him severe internal injuries, paralysing both legs and arms. He has hardly any movement below the neck and will be severely disabled, using a wheelchair for life.

The subsequent investigation by HSE Inspectors established that W Carroll & Sons did not supply the workers with a method statement or a risk assessment. HSE also pointed out that a mechanism like a gin wheel could have been provided for lowering the bags down in safety.

The investigation also found that the firm had amazingly not even changed its working practices after the accident, so that other subcontractors were left in danger.

At Liverpool Crown Court, W Carroll & Sons Ltd received a heavy fine of £105,000, plus £64,600 of prosecution costs, having pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The telling comment from the HSE Inspector Alan Pojur was:

It’s shocking that the company failed to change its procedures even after Michael fell from the ladder, meaning other workers’ lives continued to be put in danger. Falls from height are the biggest cause of death in the construction industry and it’s vital firms take action to improve safety.

Clearly this contractor was grossly at fault for endangering subcontractors by its failure to apply even the most basic construction health and safety procedures. It shows that some firms are desperately in need of some specialist external safety consultants such as those of McCormack Benson Health & Safety, to bring them up to at least an acceptable minimum standard.