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COURT TURNS UP HEAT ON DANGEROUS PRACTICES

Substantial fine imposed for unsafe working at height on fragile roof

Birmingham contractor Spanclad Construction Ltd has been fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5,271 costs for putting its staff at risk when working at height.

On 16 October 2009 HSE inspectors found Spanclad employees replacing rooflights at Adroit Modular Buildings plc in Worcester. The men were working at a height of over 5m without protection from falls as they walked across a fragile roof.

Worcester Magistrates’ Court heard that the workers had to walk along 60cm wide staging boards on the building roof to reach the rooflights. The boards were not fitted with guard rails and there was no safety protection underneath e.g. netting, soft landing bags or a birdcage scaffold.

This work had been in progress for at least three days when an HSE inspector attended the site following an unrelated incident involving another company.

Staging boards alone not a safe place of work

Spanclad Construction pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5,271 costs.

HSE inspector Paul Humphries said:

“Walking on staging boards with no handrails, while on a 5m high fragile roof and near fragile skylights, without bags, nets or any similar protection underneath, or any other fall arrest system in use, poses a significant risk to the safety of workers, should they trip or step off the boards or onto the roof or a skylight.

This is an unacceptable work practice, particularly as clear guidance on working at height is available from HSE.”

Comment

In some settings rooflights can now be replaced working safely from below. This case illustrates that the courts are increasingly prepared to impose significant fines where there is a clear uncontrolled risk whether or not there has been injury. A positive development. 

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