A £200,000 fine handed to a company for Health & Safety transgressions highlights the dangers involved in ‘Work at Height’.

The court heard that an employee at Somerset-based Cooper B-Line’s Highbridge factory regularly worked on the roof without proper safeguards being taken. He died after falling through a skylight onto a concrete floor seven metres below.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive found the company’s risk assessment was too general and failed to identify the risk and necessary controls when people work at height. They were found to have a confused system of work that actually encouraged dangerous working.

They were fined £210,000 with £36,493 costs.

A Serious Problem

More than 4,000 people a year in the UK suffer major injuries working at height.

While most incidents are in construction, all employment sectors are affected. For instance, HSE data for the education sector shows there have been five deaths in the last six years and over 3,000 injuries. Most of the major injuries were from falls of less than two metres.

How High is ‘Work At Height’?

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 do not say you have to work above ground for them to apply. In fact, Work at Height means working anywhere including at or below ground level!

The regulations therefore apply to work at any height where there is a risk of injury from falling.

The law takes a risk-based approach to any height where you might be injured and requires that suitable precautions are taken. This covers a wide range of circumstances including:

  • Using a work platform, scaffolding or ladder
  • Working on a roof or up a tree
  • Working next to openings such as cellars
  • Standing on a table or chair to change a light-bulb

Tragic But True

A higher fall is more likely to cause injury. However, falls from lesser heights may still result in injury.

Even changing a light-bulb is a serious business. For example, Bradford Council was fined £15,000 after a school caretaker suffered a crippling fall changing a bulb. And how many of us can honestly say we’ve never climbed onto a desk or wobbly chair to do that, or to retrieve a box on top of a cupboard?

Even the most mundane, everyday tasks can result in serious harm to the individual and financial penalties. As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees and everyone affected by your activities.

Contact Ellis Whittam to find out how many workers it takes to safely change a light bulb!

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