Solar Panel installation causes a worker serious injury
In recent years, the Government schemes that have incentivised alternative energy generation have had a dramatic effect upon the building trade, most notably through the huge uplift in solar panel installation on domestic and commercial roofs.
It would be unfair to single out the contractors that carry out this type of work, but inevitably when a boom occurs, some poor practices creep in that would not be acceptable in construction safety terms on more traditional sites where there are multiple trades and probably more oversight from a principal contractor, involving checks and balances.
This unfortunate case stems from November 2011, and it occurred at Norton Grounds, Daventry, Northants. A specialist solar company, Alternative Energy Installations Ltd, was installing solar panels on the roof of a barn there.
Safety risks laughed off
The firm’s Technical Director was Ian Black. It later emerged that he knew the roof lights on this roof were fragile. One worker who had to go onto the roof actually asked him if he and the others would wear safety harnesses. Mr. Black laughed at the suggestion.
So when work began, there were no primary measures in place to prevent falls, nor any secondary safety systems to avert injury if anyone did fall. Sadly a young (unnamed) worker did fall through a roof light, 6 metres to the floor where his fall was somewhat softened by a horse training floor material. This may have saved his life.
He spent 4 weeks in hospital with bad back damage that has since prevented him from working and has left him with depression and ever-present pain. His lack of confidence means he will probably have to retrain for a different type of job.
Measures taken after the event
HSE issued a Prohibition Notice on the firm, which only then showed how easily it could have made the job safer, by providing crawl boards and safety nets so that the job could go on.
In this case, both the firm and Mr. Black were prosecuted. Alternative Energy Installations has been liquidated since 2011, therefore the £30,000 fine and the huge legal fee of £27,000 that was received at Northampton Crown Court in its name is unlikely to be paid.
Ian Black of Denbigh, Wales had previously appeared at a magistrates’ court where he was given a fine of £7,300 and had to pay prosecution costs of £6,700.
Both had breached Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE points out that in 2012/13, over 6,300 workers had major injuries due to falls from height: many of them in the construction industry. Nearly a quarter of deaths from working at height are accounted for by roof accidents: and falls through roof lights and similar fragile surfaces are the biggest single cause of all. To see more information, visit www.hse.gov.uk/falls. For practical advice and expert follow-through in reducing your building safety risks, arrange a safety consultant visit with McCormack Benson Health & Safety.