The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its latest report on the prosecution of a company following breaches found at one of the company’s construction sites during a routine inspection.

The construction company in Middlesex had been reviewed regularly by the HSE and received its ninth Prohibition Notice in ten years and their eighth relating to work at height. The notice brought an immediate halt to all work at height. The breaches included men working on the first floor without scaffolding, a lack of edge protection, and the lack of devices such as airbags to prevent or mitigate falls.

Falls from height remain the biggest killer in the workplace and the latest HSE fine is just one in a continuous stream of cases being taken to court in a drive by the HSE to enforce safety requirements. The big question is whether employers are aware of their obligations to their employees but fail to see these through into practice or whether, in fact, many employers are unaware of their obligations. Although construction companies should be aware of their obligations, the application of Work at Height legislation may not always be readily apparent to employers in their business.

Employers’ obligations regarding working at height are governed by the Work at Height Regulations. Under the Regulations, an employer engaging in work at height is required to give careful consideration to the risks involved in that work and prepare a detailed risk assessment. When assessing the project, they must bear in mind the risks involved in that work and the ways of minimising that risk.

Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. For example you are working at height if you: 

  • are working on a ladder or a flat roof
  • could fall through a fragile surface
  • could fall into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.

To reduce the risk of falls, employers should consider if the need to work at height could possibly be avoided and ensure that any tasks which could be done at a lower level are done so. If the work at height is unavoidable, the employer must consider all the reasonable precautions that could be taken to minimise the risks of falls. These include the use of appropriate apparatus such as scaffolding with barriers at the edges.

As accidents unfortunately do happen, an employer must also consider steps that can be taken to minimise the injuries caused by a fall. The provision of safety nets, airbags and safety harnesses are all examples of mitigating equipment. Even with the above steps, employers must be vigilant and ensure that all measures that they have proposed are put in place and utilised so that theoretical safety procedures become daily safety practices.

William Broadbent of Penningtons Manches commented: “The Work at Height Regulations have been around for many years in one form or another so are not a new concept in the workplace. Employers must know their obligations – most of which are common sense - and cannot use ignorance as an excuse. In many cases, falls from height can be avoided by taking simple measures but the injuries caused by the failure to implement those measures can be devastating. Far too many cases result in life-changing injuries or death.

“Some employers may not realise that some aspects of their employees’ work may fall under these Regulations, even if temporarily. For example, if employees are working around works being carried out in their workplace or even if staff are simply climbing a ladder to reach things off shelves or change a light bulb, the Regulations still apply. It is hoped that the drive of the HSE on this issue will help to raise awareness.”

If you have been injured in an accident in the workplace, please contact us on 0800 328 9545 for free advice as to whether you could bring a claim.