The Health & Safety Executive is running a campaign this month (September 2013) targeting construction and building sites. This will include unannounced attendance and inspections with the aim of improving safety standards given the alarming statistics of construction site accidents and fatalities.

The Penningtons personal injury team recently recovered damages for a young man who suffered serious injuries from a fall at work on a construction site. The case evidences the issues that can arise when there is a lack of safety expertise and overlapping entities working on the same site.

Our client was on the roof of a factory building that his employer was renovating when he fell from a crawling board which had no handrails, kick boards or general guard rails through a skylight. He landed on his head and shoulder approximately 20ft below within the factory sustaining a fractured skull, a head injury, a fractured right collar bone and fractured ribs.

The Health & Safety Executive investigated matters and highlighted a number of health and safety breaches and proceedings were pursued against the relevant parties.

We were subsequently instructed but the matter was complicated by the number of potential defendants - the employer company, the occupier of the relevant building and the owner of the building. In the absence of any admissions of liability (despite the HSE prosecution), proceedings were issued. Following further investigations, it became clear that there were grave concerns in relation to the viability of the defendant employer, their insurance position, and the ability of the company to meet any potential judgment.

As a result, an application was made to add the owner of the defendant employer company as an additional defendant to proceedings to meet any judgment on behalf of the company. In relation to both defendant companies, there were issues about the failure to report the incident to their insurers and, as a result, both insurers refused to offer indemnity under the terms of that insurance. Claims were therefore pursued against those companies directly.

Quantum investigations were carried out and our client instructed us to put forward a formal offer in full and final settlement against the relevant defendants individually. A good settlement was subsequently agreed against the relevant defendants despite liability being denied throughout. This was a fortunate position where the defendants could meet judgement despite not having an insurer backing.

Steven John, senior associate in the personal injury team, commented: “This case is an example of just how little protection there is for employees working on building sites. In this case, there was inadequate supervision, inadequate safety management, a lack of clarity as to responsibility and a complete failure of the defendant companies to involve their insurers – which meant that the insurers could refuse indemnity for our client’s claim. It is hoped that the HSE’s current campaign will go some way to addressing the on site issues that we see in many of the construction site claims that we deal with.”