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March 25, 2013

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Apprentice breaks back in scaffold fall

A teenage apprentice broke his back in two places when he fell from a scaffold at a construction site.

Harris Scaffolding Ltd had erected a scaffold at the site in Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire. On 16 November 2011, the firm was called back to the site to make modifications to the scaffold, by creating working platforms at each corner so roofers could install rainwater downpipes.

The company sent an 18-year-old apprentice and a more experienced colleague to carry out the work. Although only having signed up to a scaffolding apprentice programme just five weeks earlier, the teenager was allowed to carry out the work unsupervised. His colleague hadn’t erected a scaffold for more than 15 years and received no refresher training.

There were no boards or guardrails in the areas where the apprentice was working, and he hadn’t been provided with a harness. He gained access to the areas via an unsuitable ladder and also by climbing on the outside of the scaffold. At times, he stood on a single-width scaffold board, or directly on tubing.

He was standing on the platform when he fell more than three metres to the ground. He fractured two vertebrae and subsequently needed to wear a back brace for a number of weeks. He was unable to return to work for three months owing to his injuries.

The HSE visited the site on the same day and issued a Prohibition Notice to Harris Scaffolding for failing to implement a safe system of work.

HSE inspector Luke Messenger explained the work hadn’t been adequately planned, supervised, or carried out. He said: “In this case the company fell well below accepted standards and a trainee was badly injured as a result. It was lucky his career wasn’t ended before it had properly begun.

“This case should serve as a reminder to all those involved in work at height of the need to ensure that work is properly planned and carried out safely. Employers are responsible for ensuring that their staff have the right equipment, that safe operating procedures are in place, and that persons carrying out work at height have the right training and supervision.”

Harris Scaffolding appeared at Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court on 22 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £6156 in costs.

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