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CLIENT PROSECUTED FOR FAILING TO ASSESS COMPETENCE

Builder left paralysed after fall through fragile rooflight on client building

Loates Bros Limited, a Lincolnshire farming business, has been fined after a building contractor was left paralysed when he fell through the roof of one of the company buildings.

Contractor Paul Blanchard was engaged by Loates Bros Limited to replace damaged roof panels and rooflights at Northorpe Grange and Southorpe Farm in Blyton and on 18 July 2010 he fell over 4m through a fragile rooflight at Southorpe Farm.

Mr Blanchard fractured his back/ribs and suffered severe head injuries. He punctured a lung and was in an induced coma for three months. He now needs a wheelchair after being left paralysed from the chest down. After the hearing Mr Blanchard said:

“My injuries have been very hard to come to terms with, not just for me but my wife Jenny as well. We’re still having to change the way we do things, even now, more than two years on.

I feel frustrated that I can’t work any more, do all the manly jobs around the house, or play squash like I used to, but I realise I’m lucky to be here. The way I see it, the glass is half full.

I hope that telling people what I’ve been through will make them think about how important health and safety in the workplace is, and they can avoid something like this happening to them.”

HSE investigators found that Loates Bros Limited:

  • failed to assess the contractor suitability for the job;
  • allowed work to be carried out in an unsafe manner;
  • allowed work to go ahead without the contractor providing a risk assessment or method statement; and
  • with no safe means of access/measures to prevent or mitigate the effects of a fall.

Lincoln Magistrate heard (3 October) that the work at Northorpe Grange was assisted by one of the company directors lifting the panels up to the roof on a telescopic handler. Mr Blanchard and another man then slid them down and into place.

At Southorpe Farm, Mr Blanchard accessed the roof by using a staircase and climbing through a window in an adjacent building. The director helped him lift equipment using the same telescopic handler before leaving Mr Blanchard to get on with the work.

Failed to assess competence and arrangements adequacy

Loates Bros Limited pleaded guilty to two breaches of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,995.

After the hearing HSE inspector Martin Giles said:

“Maintenance of the farm buildings was a necessary part of the company’s undertaking. As such Loates Bros Limited had a duty to ensure that contractors like Mr Blanchard were not exposed to unnecessary risks to their safety.

One of the company directors worked with Mr Blanchard for some of the time and was in a position to see how he was working. He was also able to note that there was a complete lack of safety equipment in use. The director was therefore in a position to question and stop the work if he felt it was unsafe.

In failing to ensure that the contractor was competent; that there were adequate arrangements for planning and organising the work and by allowing Mr Blanchard and the other man to work on barn roofs in an unsafe manner Loates Bros Limited breached its duty to them at both sites.”

Comment

The latest HSE policy is that rooflights should be replaced from below rather than from the roof itself and that clients should be proactive on competence assessment. It is a pity that this advice is not followed on more rooflight replacement projects.

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