Repetition of unsafe work at height beggars belief


In our efforts to bring you the most instructive court cases and the most relevant developments relating to construction safety, we often find ourselves reporting on losses of life and serious injury. Yet on this occasion you might wonder why we draw the case to your attention. Nobody died: no-one got hurt.

The reason for our interest is that what took place, on two occasions despite an official warning, was that building site managers made crass errors (or maybe were just plain incompetent) and had to face a Court appearance and loss of reputation as a result.

Chohan Builders (West Midlands) Ltd were the contractors who worked on a house in Quinton, near Birmingham. On 13th June 2014, one of their workers was seen operating on the building’s roof. To gain access he had to use a badly-constructed tower scaffold that HSE Inspectors found so unsafe, they placed an immediate Prohibition Notice on it, to stop all work on site until it was improved or replaced. They said:

  • The method for gaining access was unsafe
  • There was no bracing on the tower to maintain rigidity
  • It lacked any edge protection

Lesson not learned

Despite this prohibition and the very clear message that it should have sent to the firm, only 5 days later on 18th June, inspectors discovered a worker on top of the garage roof of the property, which was a dangerous sloping roof, once more with no protection having been provided despite working at height. Another Prohibition Notice was served, and the case was taken to court at Birmingham Magistrates.

The evidence given by HSE in court was that the firm had been “wholly irresponsible” in permitting the same safety lapses to occur twice within a week despite a serious warning. Although nobody was hurt, the outcome could easily have been very serious.

As a result, Chohan Builders (West Midlands) Ltd. received a small fine of £2,000 and plus £981 in costs. The company pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005*.

The HSE inspector (Gareth Langston) said:

This company was issued with two Prohibition Notices for essentially the same thing less than a week apart. Luckily, no-one was hurt, but this kind of repeated behavior, which shows a willful ignorance of the dangers of working at height, has to be brought before the court.

We have to agree with the Inspector and the HSE’s reminder that working at height is the most common cause of fatal incidents in the UK workplace, as well as being the second largest cause of serious injury. Obviously many jobs do not present regular hazards of this kind, and construction is one of the most at risk sectors. Further advice on the subject can be obtained online.

And for good, honest site appraisal and practical, real-world assistance to site managers and supervisors,McCormack Benson Health & Safety provides an affordable resource that can keep contractors on the right side of the law.

*The Regulation in question says:

Every employer shall ensure that work at height is

(a) properly planned;

(b) appropriately supervised;

and (c) carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe, and that its planning includes the selection of work equipment in accordance with regulation 7.”