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Farming family prosecuted for avoidable roof fall death

Date:
12 May 2014

A farming family in south west Wales has been sentenced for safety failings after a roof worker plunged 15 feet to his death in front of his two sons.

Ronald Clarke, 59, of Whitland, fell through the fragile roof of a cowshed while working at Rhyd Sais Farm, Talgarreg, near Llandysul, on 23 July 2010, hitting the concrete floor below. He died in hospital a short time later as a result of the injuries he sustained.

The fatal incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted farm owners John Evans, his wife Glenys and his mother Margaret Evans for failing to ensure work on their property was safely managed.

Swansea Crown Court today (12 May) heard that Mr Clarke was working with his sons Bobby Joe and Acer on cowsheds at the farm, all of which had fibre cement roofs. One shed had a sign reading “Danger – Fragile Roof. Use Crawler Boards”, although Mr Clarke had limited reading skills and may have failed to understand it.

At one point behind the sheds, Mr Clarke and his sons found they could step from a slope directly onto the roof. They used this as access and continued their cleaning work for several days.

The court was told that on the day of the incident, all three were standing on the unsupported fibre cement sheet roof using a pressure washer and trowels to remove moss when the section beneath Ronald Clarke gave way.

HSE’s investigation found no evidence of adequate planning for the work, and that Mr Clarke, who was registered sick and not in full time employment, did not produce any evidence of training, qualifications or expertise in roof work.  As owners of the farm, the Evans family had a legal duty to ensure the competence of those undertaking this work, but failed to do so.

John Evans, on behalf of a partnership consisting of John, Glenys and Margaret Evans, of Rhyd Sais Farm, Talgarreg, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £15,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Stephen Jones, said:

“This tragic incident was entirely preventable. A safe system of work would have included either working from a mobile elevated platform, placing suitable covering on the roof to spread the load or fitting safety nets underneath.

“This kind of accident is all too common, particularly on farms, and work at height must always be properly planned. Contractors must implement the plan and those in control of the contractors much check it is being implemented properly.”

“Any business or worker commissioning or undertaking roof work has legal responsibilities to ensure it is carried out safely.  Those responsibilities cannot be delegated to someone else, and building owners have to understand that the onus is on them.”

Further information on working at height can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/falls/

Notes to Editors

  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. Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.
  3. HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press.

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