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May 3, 2010

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Fall investigation uncovered separate machine-safety problems

A water services supplier has been fined on two counts after an HSE inspector investigating how a man came to fall through an unmarked fragile rooflight at a pumping station near Cambridge found unrelated machine-safety issues at a separate site.

Matthew Morgan, 28, was employed by IETG Ltd as a sub-contractor to Anglian Water Services, and had been part of a team of workers carrying out field measurements to verify a model of water flow in the Ely catchment area.

Mr Morgan was on top of the pumping station’s roof, taking a reading from a rain gauge. As he moved towards a ladder, he stumbled and, in trying to break his fall, his hand landed on the skylight and gave way. He sustained a fractured vertebra, cuts and bruising, and has suffered ongoing back pain since the fall on 6 August 2007.

He returned to work about six weeks after the incident but, after experiencing discomfort when driving for long distances, has since taken a different job closer to home.

The incident culminated in IETG Ltd pleading guilty to contravening s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure the health and safety of employees working near unmarked fragile skylights. It was fined £1500 and told to pay costs of £3219.

Since the incident, the company has reviewed its processes for assessing sites where its workers collect readings. Improvements made to the firm’s assessment procedures for installing rain gauges include highlighting that such devices should not be located within two-and-a-half metres of a rooflight.

Following the case, prosecuting inspector Penny Leede said: “Incidents like Mr Morgan’s fall are entirely avoidable. Falling from height is one of the most obvious and well-known dangers for those working on roofs.

“Unfortunately, Mr Morgan is not alone. More than 4000 British employees suffered serious injury after falling from height in 2008/09. Employers need to plan ahead and assess potential risks before carrying out any work at height.”

Anglian Water Services Ltd, which owns and runs the pumping station, admitted breaching s3(1) of the 1974 Act by failing to adequately identify the risks associated with working near unmarked rooflights. It was fined £4000 and ordered to pay £3261 in costs.

An Improvement Notice issued after the incident led the company to identify fragile surfaces at its sites in the Ely area and install prominent warning notices on the approach to such surfaces. The company also reviewed its site-access authorisation processes for contractors.

The accident investigation also revealed separate failings by Anglian Water Services in relation to dangerous machinery. The inspector investigating Mr Morgan’s fall had arranged interviews with Anglian employees at its sewage-treatment plant in Angel Drove, Ely. Machines at the site were found to have safety guards missing, and some interlocking devices, designed to isolate power from machines, were not working properly. This meant machines could start up automatically when the guards were open.

Inspector Leede said the firm’s management systems were not picking up the issue of missing safety guards – which appeared to have been stolen – quickly enough. Anglian Water Services was fined a further £12,000 in relation to this issue, plus £6286 in costs, after admitting to a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA.

In a statement issued to SHP, a spokesperson for the company said: “We are very sorry indeed for the breaches of health and safety rules that occurred on two of our local sites in Ely and Huntingdon during 2007.

“From the outset, we have taken full responsibility for what happened. We have been totally open and honest with the HSE, cooperating fully with all its inquiries. We have now put in place all the necessary changes to make sure these sites are safe and secure, and the HSE are fully satisfied with the work we have done.”

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