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August 21, 2008

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Unplanned, unsupervised lifting op ends in disaster

A construction boss from Mansfield failed to properly plan or supervise a lifting operation on one of his sites, during which a bricklayer fell two metres from an unprotected wall and sustained serious injuries.

Simon Ludgate, manager of Real Estate (Midlands) Ltd, appeared at Nottingham Crown Court on 8 August to answer charges over the incident, which happened on 6 November 2006.

The court heard that structural steelwork was being fitted to support the roof of one of the houses being constructed on the site in Ravenshead, Mansfield. Although a steelwork contractor had been used for this job on another plot on the site, in this instance Ludgate instructed the workers — a group of agency workers, and one of his own employees — to do it themselves.

HSE Principal Inspector Frank Lomas explained the set-up to SHP: “There was access scaffolding around the outside of the building, and a work platform about 7ft up. It had a toe-board and a top guardrail but there was nothing to prevent a fall from the inside edge of the platform into the building itself.”

Rather than use a crane to lift the steel beams — some of them up to 6m long — Ludgate asked the workers to use the site’s telescopic handler. He marked the position of where the beams should go on the site drawings but provided no further instruction on how to get them there. Having watched the first beam being lifted, he then left, so the workers were unsupervised.

Agency worker Ronald Cordon, 63, was on the work platform helping pull the beams into position. Explained inspector Lomas: “The workers used the telehandler to raise the beams on to the platform and then basically ‘rolled’ them along the walls. Some of the men were standing on piles of blocks inside the plot, some were on the tops of internal walls, or on single scaffold boards bridged across the internal walls.”

Mr Cordon fell as he was trying to pull one of the beams and struck his head on some steelwork on the floor below. He was knocked unconscious and suffered cuts to his head, a fracture to his left thumb, which as resulted in permanent loss of movement, and severely bruised legs.

Despite this, Ludgate failed to report the incident to the HSE, and the accident only came to light when Mr Cordon’s solicitor approached the regulator.

Simon Ludgate pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974, and contravening reg.3(1)(b)(ii) of RIDDOR 1995. He also pleaded guilty to a further breach of s3(1) HSWA in relation to risks at another of his sites, in Trowell Road in Nottingham, which had been discovered by HSE inspectors during a visit in June 2006. On this occasion, a Prohibition Notice was served owing to insufficient protection against falls from height on a loading bay, and risks to members of the public from falling tiles because of a lack of edge protection.

In view of the fact that Ludgate’s company was in liquidation, he was fined just £1500, and no costs were ordered to be paid. He had offered his lack of financial means in his defence, and said he had had a previously good safety record. However, it subsequently emerged that in 2002, on a site where Ludgate was manager, a Prohibition Notice was served in relation to unsafe work at height, along with an Improvement Notice relating to inadequate welfare facilities.

Angus Robbins, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, commented: “A series of errors resulted in a tragic incident, causing permanent damage to a man’s health, but given the circumstances, this could easily have resulted in a fatality. Throughout the work at the two sites there was a complets failure to plan the work, maintain the necessary protection at height, or acknowledge the consequence of falls.

“This case illustrates that risks should be properly assessed, and the results acted upon, to ensure that decisons can be taken on appropriate equipment and working practices to be used, so employees are safe.”

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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