Roofer caught out doing unsafe painting at height


This is one of the more ludicrous building health & safety infringements that we have had to report upon – and was caught on film by an environmental health council worker, tipped off by a public-spirited passer-by, on 14th March 2013.

Laser Roofing London and South East Roofing Limited was the trading name used by 25 year-old George Nicholls, and although he was actually a roofer (as the name suggests) he was used as a painting subcontractor by Maintenance 24-7 Ltd because they themselves lacked equipment and the expertise to do the job in question. This was the repainting of a shop front in St. Mary’s Road, Southampton.

Van roof used as a ladder base

The plan was to use ladders, but Mr. Nicholls’ ladder was too short for the 3rd floor work required. So instead of going to get one of the correct length, he chose a crazy improvised alternative – he got the labourer who was working for him to support the base, but the base itself was placed on the roof of his Transit van. And he himself had his ladder at its full extension – so he was working 8 metres off the ground on a wobbly ladder, itself on an insecure base. Any fall from that height would quite probably have been fatal.

This was bad enough, but to make matters worse there had been no prior planning to protect the public or workers. The key points were –

  • Improper use of van roof
  • Danger to Nicholls when up the ladder
  • Danger to labourer on the van roof
  • Work took place over a bus stop
  • The road had double yellow lines
  • No measures to segregate work from traffic or pedestrians
  • No pavement work licence had been obtained
  • Risk of materials falling on the public below

Danger to workers and public

To carry out this work correctly, a scaffold or mobile work platform, e.g. a cherry picker, should have been hired in – and of course a licence obtained for pavement working.
At Southampton Magistrates’ Court, both principal contractor Maintenance 24-7 Ltd of King’s Lynn, and George Nicholls of Newdigate, Surrey, admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Maintenance 24-7 received a fine of £10,000 plus £784 in costs while Mr. Nicholls’ fine was £4,000, plus £666 in costs.
The HSE thanked the member of the public for blowing the whistle on this ridiculous and extremely hazardous way of working at height.
In such a case, the company that hired in the roofer had a duty to ensure the work was done safely and correctly (and why they chose a roofer rather than a painter is an unreported mystery) – and the subcontractor (who should have known all about safety when working with ladders or platforms) also had a responsibility to carry out his duties properly, protecting himself, his worker and the general public.