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December 15, 2006

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Window ledge was not high enough to prevent fatal fall

A case in which a window fitter toppled through a glass-less window and fell 11 metres to his death is being used by the HSE to emphasise the importance of adhering to work at height legislation on the height of guardrails and similar means of protection.

Steven Sinclair was working with a colleague to replace double-glazed windows between the third and fourth floors of an apartment block in north-west London on 3 October 2005. The men had been employed by Christopher Lucas and his firm, Four Seasons. As they were lifting a heavy pane into place they and the glass fell through the window gap to the ground below. Mr Sinclair’s colleague survived but he died in hospital.

Christopher Lucas, of Hemel Hempstead, pleaded guilty at City of London Magistrates’ Court on 27 November to breaching s3(2) of the HSWA 1974 for failing to ensure that persons who were not his employees were not exposed to risks to their safety. Combined fine and costs amounted to £15,000.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 stipulate that “the top guardrail or other similar means of protection [in this case, the window ledge] shall. . .be at least 910 millimetres above the edge from which any person is liable to fall”.

Investigating HSE inspector Lisa Chappell told SHP: “Christopher Lucas felt the window ledge was high enough but it was only 810mm high. Obviously, he couldn’t have put another guardrail in place, as this would have prevented the men from accessing the window to fit the pane, but he should have provided fall arrest equipment.”

In his defence, Lucas said he is now using fall arrest and that failure to provide it on this occasion was in no way a deliberate attempt to cut costs. He had not been aware of the minimum legal requirements for working at height.

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