25 Mar 2013

West Midlands firm in court after scaffold fall

A Halesowen scaffolding company has been fined after an inexperienced 18-year-old apprentice broke his back when he fell more than three metres.

Kidderminster magistrates heard today (22 March) that the trainee, who has asked not to be named, was working for Harris Scaffolding Limited on a construction site in Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, on 16 November 2011.

The firm had been called back to the site to make modifications to the scaffold it had put up two months earlier. The changes were needed to provide roofers with working platforms at each corner of the scaffold so they could install rainwater downpipes.

The teenage worker, who had signed up to a scaffolding apprentice programme just five weeks earlier, was carrying out the necessary alterations when he fell nearly three-and-a half metres to the ground below. He fractured two vertebrae and was off work and in a back brace for three months.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the apprentice was allowed to work unsupervised in areas of scaffold with no boards or guardrails and without a harness. At times he stood on single-width scaffold boards or directly on tubing and gained access to work areas from an unsuitable ladder and by climbing up the outside of the scaffold.

HSE said the work had not been adequately planned, supervised or carried out in a safe manner.

A more experienced colleague had been sent to work with him but he had not carried out any scaffold construction work for some 15 years and had not had any refresher training in that time.

The investigation also found that Harris Scaffolding Ltd had not followed its own risk assessment when it first built the scaffold by failing to work in accordance with industry-recognised best practice guidance. No guardrail or supports were in place for use during modifications of the scaffold. Neither the apprentice nor the older colleague were given any specific instructions or drawings before going on to site and had not seen a risk assessment or method statement.

Harris Scaffolding Limited, of Coombs Wood Court, Steel Park Road, Halesowen, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,156.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Luke Messenger said:

"This was an avoidable incident and a young man was fortunate not to suffer more serious life-changing or even fatal injuries.

"Work at height is the biggest single cause of fatal and serious injury in the construction industry, and for scaffolding companies working at height on a daily basis the controls required should be second nature. There is a wealth of guidance available, from HSE and the industry, and there is really no excuse for not following basic precautions such as working from a safe area or using a harness.

"In this case the company fell well below accepted standards and a trainee scaffolder was badly injured as a result. It was lucky his career wasn't ended before it had properly begun.

"This case should serve as a reminder to all those involved in work at height of the need to ensure that their work is properly planned and carried out safely. Employers are responsible for ensuring that their staff have the right equipment, that safe operating procedures are in place and that persons carrying out work at height have the right training and supervision."

HSE Bulletin No: HSE/M/82/13 (Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence)

Wow, it sounds like a long catalogue of errors on this particular story. Lack of training, lack of supervision, lack of guardrails, lack of harness, lack of planning.... The list seems to go on and on. For a specialised scaffolding company to fall short on so many levels is truly scary. It is another stark reminder of the dangers of working at height and the need for safe working practices.
As ever, we try to encourage safe practices through our pre-use inspection systems. However, inspections are only going to be effective if the person carrying them out is competent to do so. With a good tagging and inspection system, missing guardrails, supports, toe-boards etc should be easily identified and the findings displayed inside the tag to clearly display a DO NOT USE message to potential users. For more information visit our website at www.goodtogosafety.co.uk


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  3. I'm reading more and more about people who have been injured whilst working at height. I sympathise with everybody affected by this, stricter guidelines need to be followed. Anybody working on scaffolds and powered access equipment should familiarise themselves with the safety suggestions outlined by Promax before ascending.


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