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Site supervisor fined after worker paralysed in roof fall

Date:
14 June 2013

A site supervisor has been fined after a co-worker was left paralysed after falling ten metres from the roof of a Tyneside warehouse.

Temporary employee Phillip Giles fell from an unprotected and fragile roof after supervisor Paul Burke allowed workers, who were removing cement sheets, to go onto the roof, ignoring his company’s safety policy.

Mr Giles, 24, from South Shields, suffered multiple injuries and has been left paralysed from the neck down as a result of the fall.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today (14 June 2013) prosecuted site supervisor Paul Burke, of Brighouse, West Yorkshire after an investigation into the incident at the Drum Industrial Estate in Birtley, on 5 September 2011.

Durham Crown Court heard Mr Giles and colleagues were removing roof sheets by gaining access from below via a scissor lift. HSE found that when this became difficult, Mr Burke allowed the workers to go onto the roof itself but without the knowledge of his contracts manager as was required.

At one stage Mr Giles got onto the roof to strip off more sheets, but trod on a loose skylight panel that gave way under him. He fell around 10 metres to the ground below.

The court was told Mr Burke’s employer, which had a contract to remove asbestos cement roofs from a number of warehouses at the site, had identified them as fragile. The company had agreed a system of work where its employees used scissor lifts, removing the roof sheets from the underside.

Mr Burke supervised the work on site, but when they encountered problems in the work he did not bring these to the attention of the contracts manager as required by the company procedure. Instead he permitted a change to the system of work, whereby he and other employees went onto the roof itself to carry out some of the work.

The HSE found the company’s agreed system was safe but by changing it, Mr Burke had sanctioned an unsafe system of work. The company was unaware of the changed way of working and Mr Burke had failed to consult with them.

Paul Joseph Burke, 56, of Lightcliffe Road, Brighouse, West Yorkshire, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Regulation 4(1)(b) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 between 4 August and 5 September 2011 by failing to properly supervise work at height and make sure it was carried out safely. He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £9,765.88 costs.

Speaking after the case Mr Giles said:

"“I welcome the fact that the HSE has taken this action and I hope that this means what happened to me won’t happen to anyone else."

HSE Inspector Keith Partington added:

"This incident has had a devastating and life-changing impact on Mr Giles and his family.

"Mr Burke allowed some of the work to be undertaken on the roof without any measures in place to guard against falls and injury. He was not authorised to make changes of this nature and also failed to discuss the changes with his employer.

"Those who supervise work at height have a responsibility to ensure that it is carried out in a manner which is safe and which guards against the risk of injury from a fall. Such injuries, if not fatal, may result in a lifelong disability for the injured person."

For more information about working at height safely log onto the website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/index.htm

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 4(1)(b) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states: Every employer shall ensure that work at height is appropriately supervised.

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