Contractors liable for worker’s fall


We often have to report on cases where working at height has been carried out without a proper risk assessment or safe system of working. The difference in this case is that although a proper assessment had been carried out, and the required equipment was put in place, a worker seems to have deviated from the approved method statement and the result has sadly been a debilitating injury for the man concerned. Furthermore, the firms have been castigated and fined as a result. This should act as a warning to all contractors that they bear the ultimate health and safety responsibility.

An ex-factory in Middlewood Road, Poynton, Cheshire was being demolished in April 2013. The principal contractor was Construction Contracting UK Ltd, of Hinckley, Leics. They sub-contracted Local Asbestos Services Ltd. of Haydock to remove the asbestos sheets that formed the roof. This firm hired a group of local workers including Peter Tracey (59).

Risks were assessed

Construction Contracting and Local Asbestos Services did what was required of them under the health & safety regulations. They assessed the risks, and prepared a method statement, whereby a cherry picker or scissor lift would be provided so that the bolts holding the asbestos sheets could be cut away without the danger of walking out onto the roof. In fact a cherry picker was provided for the purpose.

Contrary to this plan, Mr Tracey and one other worker climbed onto the roof to remove panels from above. It is stated that there was a lack of nets or harnesses to prevent falls or injury. On the face of it, this is not surprising because it was not envisaged that they would take this dangerous action. Nevertheless, the firms are held responsible for allowing them to do so – it is assumed that there is always supervision in place to spot and prevent unsafe acts.

It seems that one sheet began to move away from him as Mr. Tracey was dismounting it. He grabbed for it and in doing so, stepped onto a fragile plastic roof light, which broke and he fell through, dropping some 5 metres onto the concrete floor of the building. There was a helicopter airlift to hospital due to the severity of his injuries, and at hospital he was put into an induced coma.

Although he survived, Mr. Tracey spent a month in hospital due to multiple injuries that include collapsed lungs, blood in the left lung, rib and hip fractures, and a shoulder tendon that ruptured. It is forecast that his injuries will trouble him during the rest of his life, and in a statement he said that the shoulder injury particularly prevents him from carrying out everyday tasks.

Liverpool Magistrates’ Court fined Construction Contracting UK Ltd. £12,000 and additional costs of £23,502 under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 due to its failure to monitor the operation of its subcontractor.

Local Asbestos Services Ltd. (the actual contractor that was most directly responsible) was fined the lesser sum of £8,000 and £6,191 in prosecution costs for breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005 by not ensuring its roof removal work was safe.

It may seem unduly harsh on the firms – of course one must always have sympathy for the victim, even when the evidence presented suggests that the accident was partly his fault – but in our modern world there is always a search for the apportionment of blame to a company or authority. The message to building firms, especially principal contractors, is that you are going to be held to account if something goes wrong on site. All you can do is to minimise the chances of it happening, by implementing good systems then supervising them. The independent onsite view of expert safety consultants like McCormack Benson Health & Safety can be invaluable in spotting trouble before it leads to tragedy.