Edge protection may have prevented fatal scaffold fall

02 September 2009

An electrical installations company has been fined £160,000 after a workman fell to his death while dismantling a mobile tower scaffold.

In summer 2007 West Sussex County Council had contracted EDF Energy Contracting Ltd to carry out high-level maintenance of lighting and heating appliances at Worthing High School. In order to undertake the work, James Gordon, a labourer working for EDF, had erected a mobile tower scaffold but only put edge protection on the top platform, and not around the intermediate levels.

On 2 August, all of the maintenance work had been completed and Mr Gordon began to dismantle the scaffolding. He removed the top platform first and continued to disassemble the scaffolding from top to bottom. One of his colleagues was working at ground level, transporting the parts back to a van.

As he was attempting to remove one of the intermediate platforms Mr Gordon stumbled and fell from the scaffolding and landed on the ground, five metres below. His colleague called the emergency services but Mr Gordon was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of serious head injuries.

EDF Energy Contracting appeared was sentenced at Chichester Crown Court on 27 August having pleaded guilty to breaching regs. 4(1)(b) and 4(1)(c) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 for failing to ensure work at height was properly supervised and carried out safely. It was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay full HSE prosecution costs of £24,594.98.

The firm mitigated that it had no previous convictions and had immediately suspended all tower-scaffold operations following the incident. It has subsequently reviewed the method of work used to install the scaffolding, and now ensures that guardrails are installed on each platform.

HSE inspector Russell Beckett told SHP: "It is important that all tower scaffolds are erected and dismantled correctly, and that guardrails are fitted so as to prevent falls. All too often, tower scaffolds are used incorrectly without the correct handrails. All working platforms must be provided with suitable edge protection. Guardrails should be at least 950mm high and an intermediate guardrail should be provided so that workers can't fall through any unprotected gaps.

"The supervisors on the site were unaware that the scaffolding did not have edge protection on every platform. The company has now retrained all its staff to ensure they are aware of the dangers of working at height and to ensure that guardrails are installed on each level of all tower scaffolds."

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