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Firm in court over worker’s multiple injuries

Date:
23 September 2014

A Wigtown-based sawmilling firm has been fined for safety failings after a worker was seriously injured when he fell eight feet through a fragile roof light to the ground below.

Tony Heron, then 56, was employed by Penkiln Sawmill Company Ltd and was putting tin sheets on the roof of a lean-to shed at the company’s Wigtown premises when the incident occurred on 1 February 2013.

Stranraer Sheriff Court was told today (23 September) that Mr Heron was on the roof of an old joiner’s shed which adjoined the lean-to shed he was working on. He was putting sheets of tin onto the roof trusses of the lean-to and then fixing them in position by screwing them down. The company had not carried out a risk assessment for the task and had failed to put any control measures in place to minimise the risk of a fall from height.

The pile of tin sheets Mr Heron was using had earlier been lifted up on to the roof of the old joiner’s shed by forklift. Mr Heron had to take a sheet of tin from the pile, walk along the shed roof to fix it on to the lean-to roof, and then go back to get another sheet. The shed roof incorporated fragile PVC rooflights. On one of these trips Mr Heron fell through one of the fragile roof lights to the ground below.

Mr Heron, who had worked for the company for 28 years, suffered multiple fractures to his vertebrae and ribs and a cut to his head which needed 14 stitches. His injuries meant that he had to wear a back brace for up to 24 hours a day for several weeks and despite taking painkillers, he remained in constant pain.

He was unable to return to his job and now suffers impaired mobility in his spine. His back injury is not expected to improve.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Penkiln Sawmill Company Ltd had failed to carry out any risk assessment or to come up with a safe system of work for the task that Mr Heron was engaged in at the time of the incident. Suitable control measures would have included the provision of platforms, coverings, guard rails or similar means of support or protection on or around the fragile roof lights or around the open edges of the roof to prevent a fall from height. The company also failed to provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision for the task.

Penkiln Sawmill Company Ltd of Newall Terrace, Dumfries, was fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Lesley Hammond, said:

“This was an entirely avoidable incident. Falling from height is one of the most common reasons for injuries and even fatalities at work, and it is fortunate that Mr Heron survived such a fall, albeit with significant injuries.

“Penkiln Sawmill Company should have been aware of the risks and the precautions that needed to be taken, before starting the work. The dangers of fragile roofs are well-known and consideration should have been given to using barriers to prevent access to the roof lights, or taking steps to cover them over with suitable material.”

Falling through fragile roofs and rooflights accounts for almost a fifth of all the fatal incidents which result from a fall from height. On average, seven people are killed every year after falling through a fragile roof or roof light. Many others suffer permanent disabling injuries.

For more information about working at height, log on to the HSE 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. In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation

3. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

4. HSE news releases are available at press.hse.gov.uk

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