Unsafe ladder use causes damaging fall


This is an incident that happened in isolation, during an electrical installation with no other building work: but it carries with it lessons for construction safety. Principal contractors generally have to appoint CDM Coordinators and they produce risk assessments and method statements for their major tasks. The problems can creep in when subcontractors appear on site to carry out, say, electrical, plumbing or decoration work, and they are not controlled or monitored to the same degree.

In this case, Hedley Solutions Ltd had the job of installing audio-visual systems at Filey Junior School, near Scarborough, North Yorks.

This obviously involved them in installing wiring, and running cables around the building. They had two men on the job, one of whom was Lee Rutherford (23), and on June 21st 2013 he was at the top of an extending ladder combination in order to work some 4 ½ metres above the ground.

Mr Rutherford was trying to feed a computer cable up to his workmate in the loft, when the unsupported ladder gave way and made him fall all the way to the wooden floor.

No safety measures

It was subsequently established by the HSE inspectors who investigated the incident that the extending ladder had no anti-slip protection and the men had not secured it in any way to guard against its failure.

This was just part of the shortcomings of Hedley Solutions Ltd: they failed to carry out a risk assessment to identify the hazards and provide the men with the correct access equipment to safely reach a 5-metre high ceiling. This could have been a mobile elevated working platform; or tower scaffolding. What is clear is that ladders were inadequate and definitely unsafe for use at such a height.

The unfortunate worker could easily have died: as it was he fractured his right arm and his right leg, and broke his elbow badly, in the impact. He required reconstructive surgery and developed serious side-effects in his left shoulder as a result of his treatment.

Stop and Think

Lee Rutherford himself advised, for the benefit of others:  “You need to stop and think before using an extension ladder – always think of yourself first.” He also said that his right arm still suffers a lot of pain. It has been rebuilt, involving skin grafts and a good deal of scarring. He no longer has the same degree of movement as before the accident. He added, “I have managed to go back to work, though I’m no longer with Hedley, but things are not the same as they were. No-one will ever understand how a fall from a ladder will affect the rest of their life. The constant pain and lack of movement I now have has affected me in so many ways.

At Scarborough Magistrates’ Court, Hedley Solutions Ltd. of Peterborough was given a fine of £10,000 as well as £1,296 of costs. The firm had pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Jobs like this may be relatively low-cost compared to full-scale building or renovation projects – but they carry with them the same perils if the basic health and safety rules are not observed. No-one can afford to cut corners and risk lives.