Lone building worker dies from fall in boiler house


As we often have cause to remind our construction safety specialist readers, falls from height are the most common cause of death at work in the building trades. In this case it was a maintenance worker who sadly died.

Heating engineer Alan Young (68) was an ex-LB Barnet Council worker who transferred 21 years ago to Barnet Homes Ltd. which now manages their housing estates – so Mr. Young was very experienced and held ‘lone worker’ status. He was responsible for the boiler house installation at Grahame Park estate.

On 8th August 2011, he checked in with his supervisor before visiting the boiler house to mend a leak that had occurred. When he failed to report in, as he should have done having finished his shift, the supervisor vainly tried to call him on the phone the next day, the 9th. Housing estate workers were given the alert and when they received no answer at his home, they went to the boiler room and found him there, sadly dead and with bad head injuries.

Unsafe structures found

The investigation that followed, involving the HSE, found that he had clearly been working at height, using one or more of the following –

  1. A fixed scaffold
  2. A mobile scaffold tower
  3. A ladder

There were failings in respect of all three elements. The supervisor had not known about the fixed scaffolding construction even being there. The mobile tower was badly constructed and lacked brakes on its wheels as well as having no guard rails. The ladder was not secured in place.

The building maintenance company was found to have failed in specific ways:

  • Barnet Homes did not write a risk assessment for Mr. Young’s work
  • He was not specifically trained in the use of a mobile tower and ladder work
  • The company did not control this work satisfactorily

At Southwark Crown Court, Barnet Homes Ltd, admitted responsibility for Mr. Young’s death. The judge said when sentencing the firm that he was fining it the relatively large amount of £37,000 and £75,000 of legal costs due to the loss of a man’s life, after the company admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The judge also wanted to send out the warning to public organisations that they have to meet the same standards as private operations in terms of health & safety: even if they are lacking in funds.

The investigating HSE Inspector (Charles Linfoot) was quoted as saying:

This was a distressing incident, particularly for the workers who discovered Mr. Young’s body, and our investigation concluded that it was entirely preventable. Barnet Homes Ltd has an obligation to provide suitable and sufficient measures to protect their workers during the course of their employment. Working at height poses particular risks and yet it was clear Barnet Homes did not assess the risks. Had they done so, there would have been a suitable work platform provided so Mr. Young could carry out his work in safety.

The message should be clear to anyone involved in new build and refurbishment sites, as well as maintaining buildings as in this case. Workers, especially those who might work alone, must be protected from any likely danger. Often it helps to have an independent, trained eye looking out for potential dangers and advising of the appropriate action before tragedy strikes. That is the speciality of the safety consultants from McCormack Benson Health & Safety.