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October 7, 2008

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Modified scaffolding put roofers at risk of falling

In a court case that demonstrates the HSE’s readiness to take proactive enforcement action, a roofing company has been fined after some of its employees were spotted using unsafe scaffolding by HSE inspectors.

The inspectors saw roofers employed by Steve Emery Roofing working on a scaffold at the front of a terraced building in Newcastle-under-Lyme on 28 January 2008. The men were passing down tiles by hand to stack them on a pallet on the footpath for salvaging.

To do this, the roofers had removed two of the four scaffolding boards from the eaves scaffold platform at a height of four metres to make a makeshift platform at about two metres high. This enabled the tiles to be handed down from person to person, in a process known as ‘chaining’.

The inspectors told the men to stop the work, and arrangements were made to lower the rest of the tiles in a safe manner.

“The men had adapted the scaffold, but they were not trained scaffolders,” Martin Overstall, the HSE inspector who investigated and prosecuted the case in court, told SHP. “There were wide gaps in both platforms through which workers could fall, and there was an absence of edge protection and toe boards on the lower platform. The end result was clearly unsafe.”

Sitting on 26 September, Newcastle-under-Lyme magistrates heard that there had been a lack of planning. The firm had not planned to use a tile elevator or hoist to remove the tiles from the roof. It was left to the men to get them down without any proper instruction.

“We reserve the right to prosecute any duty-holder seen blatantly breaking the law in circumstances where people are being put at serious risk, as was happening in this case,” the inspector emphasised. “We will prosecute without waiting for any accident to happen.” He added that the company had been served Prohibition Notices in the past for unsafe roof work.

Steve Emery Roofing of Newcastle-under-Lyme was ordered to pay £2000 in fines, with £1160 in full costs on 26 September. The firm pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4(1) and reg.6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 by failing to ensure work at height was properly planned and supervised, and failing to take adequate measures to prevent a fall from height. The fine related only to the reg.6(3) charge.

In mitigation, Steve Emery said that his employees should not have been undertaking the unsafe practice. They were experienced enough to know how to get the tiles down correctly without him having to tell them. However, inspector Overstall contested Emery’s view.

“We would not normally expect someone falling from four metres on to a hard surface to survive,” he stressed.

“Such falls remain one of the biggest killers of employees. Incidents like these could be avoided if companies ensure they assess the risks from working at height, think through a safe way of tackling a job, provide all the necessary equipment, and ensure workers are fully trained and properly supervised. Employers must also ensure that protective measures remain in place for the whole duration of a contract.”

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