Two companies pleaded guilty to failing to protect workers after four agency staff fell 3.5 metres through an unsecured floor.
Spalding Magistrates’ Court heard that J&P Recruitment supplied staff to work as fruit packers at West End Cold Stores’ fruit packaging facility in Boston, Lincolnshire.
On 22 September 2008, four of the fruit packers were asked to remove ceiling insulation panels from one of the cold stores, which was being refurbished after it was destroyed by a fire. The men had not received any work-at-height training and were not provided with any advice on how to carry out the job. Therefore, they created their own method of work, which involved working from a man-riding cage, which they placed on a forklift truck.
In order to remove the last few panels they gained access to a mezzanine floor, which formed the edge of the interior roof. However, they had already removed the fixings from the floor panels on the mezzanine floor, so when they stepped on to the first panel, it gave way and all four men fell to the ground. Each suffered fractured bones and one worker is still unable to return to work owing to his injuries.
The HSE visited the scene two days later and issued a Prohibition Notice, which ordered the firm to stop using the unsuitable method for working at height. HSE inspector Jo Anderson told SHP that the firm should have ensured that the work was properly planned and undertaken by qualified workers. She also said the work could have been completed safely if the firm had hired a scissor lift or a cherry picker.
“All four workers involved in this incident suffered extremely serious injuries and could have been killed. They were employed to carry out tasks on the factory floor, and had no experience in working at height,” said Inspector Anderson.
“No risk assessment was carried out and no proper supervision took place while the ceiling panels were being removed – a serious failing on the part of both companies.”
J&P Recruitment appeared in court on 5 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £800 towards costs. West End Cold Stores appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the same Act. It was fined £15,000 and £1862 in costs.
In mitigation, J&P Recruitment’s managing director said the company is a small firm and admitted that he hadn’t been aware of his responsibilities for health and safety at the time of the incident.
West End Cold Stores said it deeply regretted the incident and has subsequently employed a health and safety consultant. It has carried out a full risk assessment for all work-at-height activities and provided all staff with work-at-height training.
Following the sentencing, Inspector Anderson said: “Employers and organisations that use agency workers have a joint responsibility to ensure the safety of all staff who work on site. Each party needs to be clear about their responsibilities to avoid serious incidents such as this.”
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