An Essex firm has been prosecuted after one of its employees suffered life-changing injuries when he fell from a stepladder while spray-painting a lorry. The 51-year-old man shattered his left shoulder and collar bone, broke several ribs and received a deep cut to his head in the fall at Chelmer Truck Bodies Ltd in Boreham near Chelmsford.
The company was prosecuted by the HSE after an investigation found that the same employee had fallen off a stepladder just one month before the incident, but no action had been taken to improve safety at the site on Boreham Industrial Estate.
The Court head that the worker had been painting the lorry on 27 January 2012, when one of the feet on the stepladder slipped down a grill in the concrete floor. He fell approximately two metres and suffered serious injuries. He is still unable to return to work nearly six months on from the incident, and suffers considerable pain due to the injury to his shoulder.
The court was told the company should have provided employees with a safe working platform rather than stepladders to carry out the work, as they were working at height for several hours at a time. Chelmer Truck Bodies Ltd was found guilty of a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 by failing to make sure that work at height was carried out safely. The company, which went into voluntary liquidation in April 2012, was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay costs of £4,923.
This incident shows the importance of considering the risks from working at height and particularly the need to consider alternatives to using stepladders. The HSE has warned for many years that safer alternatives must be used unless the task is low risk and low duration; which this was clearly not.
The second failure was that the company failed to do anything to improve safety; even though they knew there was a problem after the incident where the same worker fell off a stepladder a month earlier.
Our experience is that businesses can easily overlook what at the time may seem minor incidents; where a worker is not initially injured. However as this case shows, that was a learning opportunity to put things right before something went badly wrong.
The latest figures show that 38 people died as a result of a workplace fall in Great Britain in 2010/11, and more than 4,000 suffered a major injury.