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November 30, 2012

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Ladder fatality costs pub owner £235k

The death of a 65-year-old man, who fell from a ladder while cleaning a pub, has cost the pub operator £300,000 in fines and costs.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Richard Pratley was employed by Mitchells and Butler as a cleaner at the Snuff Mill Harvester in Frenchay, Bristol. On 19 January 2009, he was using a ladder to clean the roof of a structure, known as the Boathouse, inside the pub. The roof was 4.4m above the ground but the ladder that Mr Pratley used was just 1.8m in height.

Investigating health and safety inspector at Bristol City Council, Heather Clarke, said: “The ladder was not high enough for this work and from time to time Mr Pratley stood on the top step and then the platform, in order to reach the top of the roof with a mop. There was no handhold.”

Mr Pratley fell from the stepladder and fractured his skull. He died from his injuries on 23 January 2009.

The Council’s investigation revealed that the ladder, which was damaged, was the only one on the premises. It was stored in either the kitchen or the yard and was used for a variety of tasks.

The investigation also found no evidence that staff had been instructed to check the ladder before they used it, and no records to show it had ever been inspected by the manager. Neither Mr Pratley nor the manager had received any training in work at heights, or use of ladders.

There was also no evidence that Mitchells and Butler had any system in place for checking that its work-at-heights policy was followed, and the risk assessment it had carried out was inadequate for the range of work-at-height activities at the site. Four Improvement Notices were served, instructing the company to enhance its system of work in regard to work at height and the control of contractors, and to rectify other identified hazards, including dangerous electrical wiring, a slippery kitchen floor and trip hazards in the yard.

The company pleaded guilty to three health and safety offences. It was fined £200,000 for a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 – by failing to ensure the safety of employees, in relation to work at height and use of ladders; £30,000 for a breach of reg.4(2) of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 – by failing to maintain the electrical installation in a safe condition; and £5000 for contravening reg.12(3) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 – by failing to keep the floors of the kitchen and yard free of slip and trip risks. It was also ordered to pay costs of £65,000.

Following the incident, the company changed the way its employees clean the area where the incident occurred. Workers now use a long-handled mop, which avoids the need for any work at height.

Said Inspector Clarke: “This was a tragic accident that could have been avoided without any significant expenditure on the part of Mitchells and Butler.

“The task being undertaken did not need to be done from a ladder, as is demonstrated by the system now put in place by the owners. The company had not properly risk-assessed the task and this, ultimately, led to the death of Mr Pratley.”

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11 years ago

I have worked in construction for over 40 years with my speciality being scaffolding and work at height. I have spent the last 14 years working as an advisor to several blue chip companies throughout the Uk. On reading this article a few weeks ago, I e-mailed Mitchells & Butler with an offer to help them. Up to date they have not had the common courtesy to send me a reply, or even acknowledge receipt of my correspondence, a lot of H&S people do not understand the requirements of the WAH reg’s.

11 years ago

Oh dear, yet another avoidable WAH death 🙁

Where was the travelling Corporate H&S guy in this? An aquaintance of mine works for Whitbread and travels round all the Premier Inns as a ‘on-site’ H&S adviser for the Hotel Managers. He helps the managers with their H&S queries as well as looking for stuff that may attract a Notice.

If M&B have someone doing a similar job then it looks like a big fail on his/her part here.