Worker is injured as Improvement Notice is not heeded


In this construction safety case, HSE inspectors had visited the site and were so unhappy with aspects of its safety management that they served an Improvement Notice on the principal contractor, Aberdeen Fabrication Limited (A-FAB). The main issue was how work at height was being undertaken.  The Notice set the contractor a time period within which it had to carry out specified improvements.

The site in question was a big hotel refurbishment in Market Street, Aberdeen, way back in October 2009 (the case has only just come to court). A-FAB subcontracted Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Ltd to work on the premises. Scott Massie (then 37) worked for the subcontractor and (a few weeks after the HSE visit) he was engaged in replacing a floorboard that covered a hole in the first floor. The facts about the hole were:

  • The site manager had caused a temporary shaft to be created for a hoist, by ordering the cutting of holes in all 4 floors of the structure.
  • This required a safety measure for when the hoist was not being used.
  • The supervisor’s plan was that two people would put boards over each hole and screw them down, but this was not always done.
  • This was the only precaution to stop someone falling through: no guarding was erected  around the hole while the hoist was in operation.

Fall through unprotected hole

 On the day in question, as Mr. Massie moved the board into position, it fell through the hole taking him with it. He landed on the ground approximately 4 metres below, hitting his back and causing his spine to break in several places. He had to crawl back up to the first floor to get help because fellow-workers had not heard his cries.
At the hospital where he stayed for some eight weeks he was treated for 8 vertebrae fractures and 2 broken ribs. He has permanent lower back damage and he needed physiotherapy to learn how to walk once more.

Principal and subcontractor both liable

The subsequent HSE investigation concluded that principal contractor A-FAB did not deal with the safety issues of the Improvement Notice adequately. It was also found that both they and subcontractor Riverside Construction did not take the required actions to stop workers falling from a height that was likely to cause them harm. Specifically, the firms did not sufficiently guard the holes or put measures in place to stop people from approaching and falling into them.

At Peterhead Sheriff Court, Aberdeen Fabrication Ltd (A-FAB) received a fine of £45,000 under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Ltd, had to pay £30,000 under Section 2(1) of the same Act.

The HSE Principal Inspector, Isabelle Martin, said after the hearing:

… had Aberdeen Fabrications Limited and Riverside Construction (Aberdeen) Limited taken the action required by HSE inspectors this incident could have been avoided… Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths, and there is no excuse for employers failing to protect workers who may be at risk from falls from open and unprotected edges, whether in floors or roofs, or any high level.

For guidance about working at height see here.

And for wide-ranging help and advice on how to run a site safely and efficiently, see here.