Flawed Method Statement leads to serious injury


Here is an example of how the construction Health & Safety guidelines and procedures can all be applied according to the letter of the law; but if the content of the chosen method of working is flawed in practice, then a dangerous situation can be created.

Contract Scaffolding Services Ltd was the sub-contractor on a project that involved the removal of an old factory roof in Dalston, Cumbria. The company was required to affix edge protection to the roof so that it could safely be removed before the rest of the factory was demolished.

The essential paperwork had all been done: this contained –

  • a scaffolding plan
  • a method statement
  • a risk assessment

However, these documents were flawed.

The risk assessment failed to take account of fragile roof lights.

The scaffolding plan proposed that work would be carried out using a cherry picker or scissor lift: then, after a handrail was installed, workers would climb onto the roof. But although this would mitigate the risk of falls over the edge, there was no consideration of the severe risk of falling through the roof lights.

This was an unaccountable oversight: especially since the lights were spaced at just  4-metre centres, and where they were sited, there was under half a metre of safe roofing left, where the scaffolders could work

There was no reference to the requirement to use a harness when working on the roof itself. Workers were in fact given a harness, but with its 5 feet-long lanyard, even clipping it to the scaffold could not prevent any fall through a roof light: the lanyard was too long for the position where it had to be used.

Worker falls through roof light

Unfortunately a fall did occur, on February 22nd, 2013: an unnamed 23-year old trainee (part of a 4-man team) tried to walk past a co-worker and unwittingly walked onto the roof light, which broke under him. He had been wearing his harness but had not attached it to the scaffold.

He fell over 6 metres to the concrete floor: and in so doing he cut his head and face badly on the steel skeleton of the building. His kneecap was shattered and now he is incapable of doing manual labour. In the circumstances, he is lucky to be alive.

As a result of the serious injury, Carlisle Magistrates’ Court fined Contract Scaffolding Services Ltd of Carlisle the sum of  £15,000 plus £920 in costs.

As HSE rightly points out, falls off the edges of roofs and those through roof lights are two of the most frequent reasons for deaths and injuries that result from working at height. They provide information here.

While as we can see from this unfortunate case, ticking the right boxes alone does not make a construction or demolition site a safe place. It is necessary to think about the risks and take all likely scenarios into account, based upon experience and training. The specialist construction safety consultants at McCormack Benson Health & Safety will ensure that your plans are robust and realistic: and their practical, no-nonsense advice will come as a refreshing change.