It can be tempting to allow staff, particularly those who are helpful and keen, to undertake maintenance tasks within your workplace. You can sometimes hear a staff member state “I could have sorted that for you!”
When you have staff which have worked in other roles through a diverse career and the work seems reasonably straightforward it can seem like you’re able to make a significant saving or get the work carried out more quickly.
However, you should also consider the lessons which can be learnt from the case below and many like it.
Diversion of workers to maintenance tasks results in prosecution
Kent based Erith Haulage Company Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of The Work at Height Regulations 2005, was fined £215,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £10,622 after an employee fell four and a half metres through a fragile skylight onto a concrete floor while cleaning a roof.
The maintenance tasks were undertaken by two drivers, requested by the company’s foreman and took place on the weekend of the 17 and 18 January 2015.
A Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP) was hired for the cleaning, but when one of the drivers could not reach a section of the roof from the MEWP he got out and stood on the roof not realising that the roof contained fragile skylights.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuting told the court the roof in question was metal with gutters running along it. The skylights were located in strips over the portion of roof but were covered in dirt discolouring them and making them appear similar colour to the roof itself.
After some time cleaning, the driver noticed a section of roof left uncleaned and while walking along a section of the roof he fell through one of these skylights. He landed on a concrete floor some 4.5 metres below.
HSE prosecuted the company for its failure to ensure that work at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner which was safe, so far as reasonably practicable.
The court heard neither driver had received training or information regarding the use of the MEWP, no edge protection was in place around the roof edges to prevent falls from height, no harness or netting was used (e.g. harnesses or netting) to minimise the distance or consequences of a fall, the fragile roof lights were not covered or edge protected to prevent falls from height.
The fall caused the man to spend a month in hospital sustaining significant injuries including a fracture to the base of his skull, multiple facial fractures, and whiplash. He also suffered damage to bones in both arms which needed pins and plates, as well as leg injuries. He was, in fact, lucky to still be alive.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Megan Carr said:
“This easily preventable incident resulted in life changing injuries to this man. I want this case to raise awareness within the industry and amongst companies in general, that proper planning and operation of work at height is imperative. This case highlights the very serious consequences that may arise from oversight.”