A scaffolding company was recently prosecuted and ordered to pay £100,000 in fines and costs, following a guilty plea to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which imposes a duty upon an employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.

The incident involved a labourer who was dismantling scaffolding from a roof and stepped on a sky light which was only guarded from one of the four sides and there was no netting in place below. The employee resultantly fell thirteen metres from the warehouse roof and died later in hospital.

Sadly, this case is not a rarity. The HSE have identified that falls through roofs account for twenty percent of all fatalities in the construction sector and construction workers are four times more likely to be killed at work than the average worker. The HSE highlighted that a potential reason for the particularly high number of incidents which occur in this sector is that the fines imposed are often lower than the costs of fully implementing health and safety measures.

While the latest HSE statistics reveal that the number of work-related fatalities has fallen this year and Britain has one of the lowest rates of fatalities in the workplace throughout Europe, the HSE wishes to address the poorer standards upheld in the construction sector. A month long initiative has therefore been launched from 2 to 27 September 2013. The initiative also aims to increase awareness of the HSE expectations and demonstrate the capabilities of the HSE to use enforcement tools. This will involve unannounced inspections and enforcement at sites across the country. Particular areas of concern include falls from height, structural stability, asbestos, respirable silica and welfare and site order.

For further information on the September initiative and safe working practices on fragile roofs, see the following HSE publications:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/campaigns/safersites/index.htm
http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/geis5.pdf