26 Nov 2012

Pub chain fined after fall from ladder killed cleaner

A pub chain has been fined £235,000 for health and safety failings which contributed to the death of a cleaner.

Richard Pratley, 65, died from a fractured skull after falling from a ladder as he tried to clean the roof of the "boathouse" inside the Snuff Mill Harvester on Frenchay Park Road.

Bristol Crown Court heard the restaurant's only stepladder was "unfit for service" – too short for the job, damaged, dirty, greasy and rusty.

The manager at the time, Petula Palmer, had asked the popular grandfather to do the job and despite raising concerns to her, he went in early on January 19, 2009, to do it.

As he couldn't reach the top of the roof – about 14ft up – he attached his brush to a mop handle. CCTV showed he stood with one foot on the top rung of the ladder shortly before losing his balance, falling and hitting his head.

Led by health and safety inspector Heather Clarke, the city council began an investigation. Not only were failings found to do with working at height, but other serious issues emerged. An unlocked electrical cupboard was found to have 83 defects, including live exposed wires.

Ms Clarke also found slip hazards in the kitchen when wet, and trip hazards in the outside yard.

Prosecutor Alan Fuller said the Harvester's risk assessments were "inadequate", neither Mr Pratley nor Ms Palmer – who later resigned – had been trained on ladder use and audits had not picked up the hazards in question. There were six slipping accidents between 2007 and 2009.

Mitchells and Butler, which owns 1,600 pubs and restaurants, admitted three health and safety breaches.

Judge Michael Roach said Mr Pratley's fatal fall was "foreseeable" and that his employers had "failed" him. He ordered they pay £65,000 costs.

Mr Pratley had three daughters – Lisa, Sonia and Dawn – and would have been a grandfather of seven.

Lisa, 36, said: "We're pleased that Mitchells and Butlers have been convicted but it still doesn't bring back our dad. We still feel the pain and suffering it has caused – of losing a loved one – especially in such a tragic and unnecessary way. But at least now, hopefully, this will not happen to anyone else in the workplace."

Mr Pratley's partner of 18 years, Janice Scott, 49, said: "Richard loved his work. He didn't want to retire at 65 – the November before he said he wanted to work for one more year.

"I was very angry about him doing that job because he was worried about it. We're glad it's all over now and justice has finally been done."

An M&B spokeswoman said: "This was a tragic accident and we would like to reiterate our condolences to Mr Pratley's family. The safety of our employees and guests remains paramount and following a detailed review of the circumstances of the accident, the company has implemented a comprehensive programme of remedial measures at the premises and across the entire estate."

Source: The Bristol Post

Having read this report in the Bristol Post, the events that led to this death are more than worrying. Even without any training in health & safety, or equipment management, it seems blatantly obvious to anyone that this was an unsafe method of work. The fact that an employee raised his concerns should be enough to raise alarm bells and if someone had taken a look at the ladder and the height that it was intended to reach, then it would soon become obvious that the ladder was unsuitable for the job in hand.

The Good to Go Safety system allows a tag to be attached to each ladder within an organisation. The tag clearly displays a "Do Not Use" message until an inspection of the ladder has been carried out. A checklist gives guidance notes on what the user should be aware of (including oil/grease on treads etc) and the checklist allows them to systematically check components such as rungs, stiles , feet etc. Once the inspection has been completed, the checklist is placed inside the tag and if all was correct than a "Good to Go" message is visible to advise that the ladder has been checked on that date and found to be safe for use. A duplicate copy of the completed checklist is also retained for management records.

It really is a simple but effective tool for both management and employee to implement and use. And it is incidents like the one mentioned above that highlights the importance of having safety systems in place, especially when you consider the low cost, low inconvenience to put these systems in place.
Hopefully employers will read this article and take note. Hopefully, one or two will invest their time to look into their current methods of work and who knows,maybe between us we can save one or two lives in the process.

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