Unprotected scaffolding causes accident


This is an example of what happens in the dynamic, ever-changing situation on a building site, where circumstances change to make a previously safe set-up dangerous because people in charge do not react, or if they do so, they do not move quickly enough to maintain proper construction safety standards. The temptation is always to press on to avoid costly downtime, but this can endanger the workforce.

Beacon Scaffolding, as the name suggests, are specialists in erecting scaffolds, and they had done so, acting as subcontractors on a refurbishment job at a site in Evans Wharf, Aspley Lock, Hemel Hempstead. A four-storey block of flats was receiving attention, with its windows and other woodwork being repainted.

No redesign when specification changed

The Beacon erectors were working to the original project plan, but even as they constructed the scaffolding, the painting and maintenance sub-contractors asked them to change the specification, involving a big increase in the height of the first tier of scaffolding.

The proper response would have been to seek a new design for the structure before going any further than the original plan, but incorrectly the scaffolding workers went ahead and added the extra scaffolding before the revised drawings arrived. Unfortunately, the scaffold as constructed had important shortcomings, namely -

  1. No protected ladder traps
  2. Lack of guardrails
  3. Access ladders too short to correctly span between levels
  4. Handholds not suitable (these should be provided by the ladder extending above the landing area)

A self-employed painter/decorator, David Currie, was employed on the site. As he was working on the building on 6th November 2012, using the third level of the scaffold, when he stumbled and fell through the opening where the ladder access was. In the absence of anti-fall protection, his arm went between the ladder rungs. He fell to the next level, suffering a disconnected shoulder and a broken arm.

The result of the HSE investigation was an appearance for Beacon Scaffolding Ltd at Watford Magistrates’ Court and a fine of £5,000 as well as £1,737 in costs due to breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007: which say:

There shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, be suitable and sufficient safe access to and egress from every place of work and to and from every other place provided for the use of any person while at work, which access and egress shall be properly maintained.

The inspector involved also made the important point that “if there are significant design changes to a scaffold, it is important the new designs are followed.”

If you are unsure about the detail of the legislation, you can find more information at:www.hse.gov.uk/falls/

And for more comprehensive protection against accidents during an ever-changing project, call upon the time-served construction safety consultants of McCormack Benson Health & Safety.