Risk assessment ignored: worker falls from roof


This is one of those frustrating building safety cases where the right specification was set out for the work but this was then ignored in practice. A man was injured due to a fall from height as a result.

A food packing firm based in Bridge, nr. Canterbury in Kent had water leaks in their premises. Because they had used contractors WW Martin of Ramsgate on building assignments for some years, they once again gave them the work. The principal contractor then subcontracted the work to a roofing specialist, Brandclad Ltd. – a Tunbridge Wells-based firm.

In advance of the works, Brandclad produced a risk assessment and a method statement to WW Martin. The key points were:

  1. the dangerously fragile roof
  2. a need for platforms with handrails
  3. a call for workers to be supplied with, and use, harnesses

It has emerged that both firms had thought about the wisdom of installing fall prevention measures under the main roof. However, under it lay a cold store and they were worried that its own roof was insufficiently strong to support a falling person.

Failure to supply safety equipment

When work began on 22th September 2012 the roofers’ working platforms lacked the intended handrails – and this remained the case right through to the end of the job in late October. This despite the accident which happened on 4th October, when an unnamed worker (46) lost his balance and fell from the platform, crashing through the main roof. Fortunately, the cold store roof – some 2 metres lower – broke his fall, despite the firms’ belief that it might not do so.

The very lucky result therefore was that he was able to go back to work after recovering from his injuries. He had broken a rib and fractured his left wrist.

Work suspended

There followed a ten-day suspension of roofing activity, while the incident was reviewed. Incredibly, this did not result in a belated application of the risk assessment’s proposals, let alone the introduction of a fall arrest system. Simply, platforms were just made to sit flatter and more evenly in the main roof troughs.

Canterbury Magistrates’ Court found roofing firm Brandclad 60% responsible for the accident. The firm’s fine was £7,000 plus costs of £3,588. Principal contractor WW Martin was held to be 40% at fault: but because it is financially stronger it received a fine of £10,000, with the same costs of £3,588.

As the investigating HSE inspector pointed out, it was the very cold store roof that the firms were worried about that actually saved the poor worker from possible death.  Why on earth did they even then fail to act to prevent the danger of a repeat fall?

The dangers of falls from height should be well known to all construction health and safety practitioners, but if you require a refresher, it can be found here. And to assist with making any building project run more safely and efficiently, expert safety consultants can be found here.