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Four metre fall lands company in court

Date:
23 May 2013

A construction company based in South East London has been prosecuted for a serious safety breach after a roofing worker plunged four metres through a badly-protected skylight.

The 45 year-old worker, Paul Shaw, of Maidstone, suffered multiple fracture injuries, including a broken right arm, when he fell through the roof opening which had been covered only with a thick plastic.

The incident, on 29 February 2012, took place at a property in Tonbridge, Kent, where building firm Bryen & Langley Ltd were the lead contractor overseeing the construction of an extension and swimming pool.

Maidstone Magistrates heard (23 May) that an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Bryen & Langley Ltd had failed to ensure that proper safeguards were in place to prevent anyone falling when work was underway at height.

The court was told that skylight openings above the swimming pool had been covered with plywood sheeting. This was changed to thick plastic to allow some natural light through and to enable workers to lower materials into the pool area if needed. The plastic was then covered with pallets and held down by timbers.

Mr Shaw, who was employed by a roofing sub-contractor on site, went up to the swimming pool roof and stepped on to a skylight opening believing it was safe to do so. It was not. The hole was simply covered by the plastic and he fell straight through landing on the pool’s concrete walkway.

Mr Shaw now has restricted movement in his wrist but was able to return to work after some five months.

Bryen & Langley, of Footscray Road, Eltham, London, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £9,209 in costs by Magistrates after admitting breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

After the hearing, Inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said:

"The distance that Mr Shaw fell could easily have resulted in his death. He is a lucky man – though I am sure he did not feel so at the time.

“This incident was avoidable and Bryen & Langley, as lead contractor, had a responsibility for safety on the site. It would have been a simple matter to have fixed the skylight covers in place. If they then needed to be moved for any reason, then temporary protection should have been placed around the openings and a system employed to ensure coverings were replaced promptly and correctly.

"Work at height needs to be properly planned and there need to be sufficient measures taken to guard against people falling."

The latest HSE statistics show that 40 workers were killed and more than 3,400 were seriously injured in falls from height in 2011/12. Further information on safe working at height can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/falls.

Notes to editors

Photo taken a day after the incident shows that single pallets now placed over the plastic covering – but still not properly secured. The previous day, only the plastic covered the opening.

  1. The Health and Safety Executive 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 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states: "Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury."

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