Uninsured scaffolding contractor in court


As we know from innumerable building health & safety cases that come to court and that we subsequently report for the benefit of others, it is necessary to take all of the legally required safety measures to protect your workforce.

Here is a case where a specialist scaffolding firm was not prosecuted for any failing in its physical safety measures: but rather it fell down on the people aspects.  Specifically, it did not show (despite several requests) that it possessed employers’ liability  insurance to cover its employees.

Abacus Scaffolding North West Ltd works on the Fylde Coast of Lancashire. It came to the attention of HSE inspectors when they were sent a (unspecified) complaint about one of its scaffold systems erected at a building site in Thornton Cleveleys. This happened in October 2013.

The inspectors never found out whether Abacus actually had an Employers’ Liability Insurance policy, required by law – but the firm’s failure to comply with repeated requests must lead to the presumption that it did not possess a policy.

HSE kept trying, without success, through to April 2014 but Abacus still failed to provide a copy of the requested policy.

The insurance in question is essential if workers need to claim compensation for any cases of injury at work.

The result was that HSE brought an action against the firm and the case was heard at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court. There, Abacus Scaffolding even failed to appear and in the absence of any representative, the firm was fined £1,000 and additionally had to pay £2,035 in prosecution costs, for breaching the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.

The HSE Inspector Allen Shute commented:

Falls from height are responsible for around a third of all workplace deaths every year, so the risks to Abacus’s employees were real. The company failed to prove it held Employers’ Liability Insurance so that if the worst did happen then workers would have been able to claim compensation to try and overcome their injuries.

HSE also pointed out that the insurance has benefits for the building firm as well: if there is a claim from a worker, then the contractor is covered for its legal fees and any compensation.

The relevant regulation states: “Where a certificate of insurance is required to be issued to an employer…, the employer…shall…produce the certificate of insurance or a copy thereof on demand to any inspector duly authorised by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Act.

This is an essential part of any contractor’s safety armoury, and we at McCormack Benson Health & Safety will always check with its clients that they hold up-to-date cover of this kind.