A food manufacturer employee injured in a fall was off work for several months following the incident which has been subject to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation. In the resulting prosecution, contractor Bedford Transmissions Limited was fined.
Bedford Transmissions Limited, trading as BT Lerson, had been contracted by Veetee Rice to move and replace machinery within their factory in Rochester.
On 17 August 2020, an employee of Veetee Rice, stood on an unsecured metal plate left in place by BT Lerson the evening before and fell a height of approximately 2.5metres.
The employee’s spine and pelvis were damaged in several places which required a lengthy stay in hospital and meant that he was unable to return to work for several months.
An investigation by the HSE found that BT Lerson did not properly plan, appropriately supervise, or ensure that the work was carried out safely. BT Lerson failed to identify the fall from height risk and necessary controls in their planning and did not take account of Veetee Rice’s employees who were working in the area.
In the lead up to the incident, BT Lerson worked over the top of the hole where the employee of Veetee Rice fell, with no suitable measures to prevent falls of their own workers. BT Lerson then left the factory site with 2 unsecured aluminium plates covering the 2.5 metre drop with only plastic barrier tape marking the area.
That night, the employee was cleaning the work area when he stood on the unsecured metal plates and fell through.
Prosecution after employee injured
At Folkestone Magistrates’ Court on October 10, Bedford Transmissions Limited pleaded guilty for a breach of Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. They were fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,194.32.
“This incident could have easily been avoided if Bedford Transmissions had properly supervised and planned this work, to ensure that the work was carried out so far as is reasonably practicable safely.
“Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. In 2021/22, falls from height accounted for 29 fatal injuries in the workplace.
“It is important that companies properly plan the work they are undertaking at height putting in place measures to protect their own employees as well as others who have access to their work area. It is also important that, when working at an external premise, employers work together and communicate how a site will be left and whether additional measures are needed.”HSE inspector Peter Bruce
Work at height guidance
Employers have a duty to assess the risks of working at height and to eliminate or reduce risks as far as reasonably practicable. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 impose duties on employers to ensure that activities which are required to take place at height are conducted safely.
Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. This includes work above ground/floor level, locations where you could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground
Work at height does not include a slip or a trip on the level, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.
Unsafe working at height can occur when tasks are not properly planned. The Regulations apply to all work at height, where there is risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. They place duties on employers, and those who control any work at height activity (such as facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height). As part of the Regulations, you must ensure:
- all work at height is properly planned and organised
- those involved in work at height are competent
- the risks from work at height are assessed, and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
- the risks of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed
- the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained
Before working at height, you must follow these simple steps:
- avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
- where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
- minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated
In planning a work at height task, you should:
- do as much work as possible from the ground
- ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
- ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
- not overload or overreach when working at height
- take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
- provide protection from falling objects
- consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
What about ladders?
The law says that ladders can be used for work at height when a risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use; or there are existing workplace features which cannot be altered.
Short duration is not the deciding factor in establishing whether an activity is acceptable or not – you should have first considered the risk. As a guide, if your task would require staying up a leaning ladder or stepladder for more than 30 minutes at a time, it is recommended that you consider alternative equipment.
You should only use ladders in situations where they can be used safely, e.g. where the ladder will be level and stable, and where its reasonably practicable to do so, the ladder can be secured.
The HSE has produced a guide, Safe Use of Ladders and Stepladders which is available as a free download.
If you require advice on working at height in your business, please contact on of the Jacksons team.