A site supervisor has been fined after a co-worker was left paralysed after falling ten metres from the roof of a Tyneside warehouse. The temporary worker fell from an unprotected and fragile roof after the supervisor allowed workers, who were removing cement sheets, to go onto the roof, ignoring his company’s safety policy.
The man suffered multiple injuries and has been left paralysed from the neck down as a result of the fall.
The HSE prosecuted the site supervisor Paul Burke after an investigation into the incident at the Drum Industrial Estate in Birtley.
Durham Crown Court heard that the worker and colleagues were removing roof sheets by gaining access from below via a scissor lift. The HSE found that when this became difficult, Mr Burke allowed the workers to go onto the roof itself but without the knowledge of his contracts manager as was required.
At one stage the injured man got onto the roof to strip off more sheets, but trod on a loose skylight panel that gave way under him. He fell around 10 metres to the ground below.
The court was told that Mr Burke’s employer, which had a contract to remove asbestos cement roofs from a number of warehouses at the site, had identified them as fragile. The company had agreed a system of work where its employees used scissor lifts, removing the roof sheets from the underside.
The HSE found the company’s agreed system was safe but by changing it, Mr Burke had sanctioned an unsafe system of work. The company was unaware of the changed way of working and Mr Burke had failed to consult with them.
Paul Joseph Burke pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Regulation 4(1)(b) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 by failing to properly supervise work at height and make sure it was carried out safely. He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £9,765.88 costs.
The HSE has expressed the importance of not allowing work to be undertaken at height without any measures in place to guard against falls and injury. Clearly, in this case, the supervisor was not authorised to make changes of this nature and also failed to discuss the changes with his employer. Could this happen in your business or are you confident all your policies are followed?
We work for many businesses across the UK and most if not all will rely upon its managers and supervisors to apply the company policy; unfortunately cases such as this show the importance of checking the checker. It’s why many of our clients will have us undertake site inspections and audits on their behalf; these can help to determine if shortcuts or unsafe practices have crept in. Clearly, when work is high risk such as this case (working at heights still accounts for the majority of workplace fatalities); then following safe systems of working are imperative.
This case demonstrates the fact that those who supervise work at height have a responsibility to ensure that it is carried out in a manner which is safe and which guards against the risk of injury from a fall. Such injuries, if not fatal, may result in a lifelong disability for the injured person as has happened to this worker.