A Northumberland firm and two of its directors have been sentenced for safety failings after a teenage worker died following a fall from a barn roof.
The man and another employee from Scotts of Whittington Ltd were carrying out repairs to the roof lights of the barn in Northumberland when the incident occurred. He had been standing on a roof panel made of fibre cement board when it collapsed. He fell through the roof landing on a concrete floor six metres below and after being rushed to hospital, died two days later.
During a two and a half week trial Newcastle Crown Court heard that a joint investigation by Northumbria Police and the HSE found that the work had not been properly planned. It also identified that inadequate equipment had been provided and that the workers were not properly trained or supervised.
Scotts of Whittington Ltd, Northumberland was fined £65,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for safety failings. Additionally the two company directors also pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) by virtue of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were fined £13,000 and £2,000 respectively. In addition the defendants were ordered to pay combined court costs of £19,000.
The HSE inspector on the case commented that this was a tragedy that could and should have been avoided. Instead a young man has lost his life as a result of collective failures including confusing instructions on how the work should be safely carried out, a lack of supervision and a failure to properly plan the work and provide adequate equipment.
In our experience this lack of planning and supervision combined with a failure to properly communicate can be found on many sites across the country. When carrying out site inspections we see many cases where language barriers add to the risks of an incident occurring; which when working off of the ground often leads to serious results.
During the year 2009/10, more than 4,000 employees suffered a major injury as a result of a fall from height at work – and 12 were killed.
It was also identified that the managing director had been prosecuted for a similar, but non-fatal incident, in 1998 when he was a partner in another company – so he in particular should have no excuses for any failures to follow guidance on working at height.
The HSE has identified that companies involved in building repair work on fragile roofs (a major problem on agricultural premises) should use this as a warning and learn from this, appreciating the high risk involved with work at height on fragile roofs.
This case shows that being aware of the risk is not enough to prevent it from happening (as the MD should have known). The business should have taken the necessary steps to ensure the safety of its workers; steps that are well known and steps that would have prevented this tragedy.