Lack of protection and risk assessment causes worker to break his back


Sadly, falls from height are so common in the building trade that we will probably be reporting on them for as long as we write these articles. However, with the right application and training it ought to be possible to reduce the current level of accidents and the consequent toll of injuries and deaths. The case below is indicative of the need to assess risk rigorously from the beginning: and to always keep adapting to changing circumstances as a building project evolves.

This was a site in Dinas Powys where a 3-storey timber frame house was under construction by principal contractors Blackflair Ltd of Cardiff.  They had a young man called Daniel Thorley constructing a blockwork wall, but when it began to rain he was asked by a fellow worker to help make the flat roof of the house secure with a polythene sheet. A hole had been cut in the roof in preparation for the fitting of a window.

Uncovered roof hole

Whilst helping out, Mr Thorley stepped back and fell through the unprotected hole, landing seven metres below. Such a big fall could easily have been fatal. As it was, he inevitably injured his back, and could not work for over a year.

Looking at the circumstances, strictly speaking he should have not been asked to go onto the roof: but equally, the other workers who were there were also at risk.

A proper assessment would have resulted in a method statement that included protective measures. These could have included:

  • A crash deck underneath the hole
  • Guardrails erected around the void
  • Soft landing material below (bean bags or air bags)

None of these measures had been put in place and there was clearly a failure of management and supervision on the site. Unsurprisingly the Inspector from the HSE commented (as is so often the case) that it was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Clearly if you are trying to waterproof the building then you cannot have a guard around the hole, but you can take the other measures, and you can board over it before using polythene. This would have been a sensible measure to react to the changeable weather.

Nevertheless, the basics were not attended to before work at height began, and a CDM Co-ordinator should have ensured that aspects like this were built into the design of the project at the outset.

If you need a combination of professional expertise with building trade knowledge, then it pays to turn to specialist safety consultants like McCormack Benson Health & Safety. They can carry out the CDM Coordinator role as well as having an ongoing role in ensuring that the site is operated safely and legally.