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January 19, 2012

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Unsafe work method led to seven-metre plunge

A young worker was lucky to escape serious injury when he fell seven metres through a skylight on a warehouse roof.

The 23-year-old man was helping to replace signage at the premises of Remnant Kings, a curtains and fabrics retailer in Seafield Way, Edinburgh, on 6 October 2009. An employee of Forrest Hepburn and McDonald Signs Ltd, the man was working with two colleagues to remove three signs.

Sitting on 16 January, Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard that fixings on the last, and largest, sign to be removed were rotten, which meant the workers’ normal method of breaking it into pieces to remove it was not an option. They therefore decided to access it from the roof and then lower it to the ground.

Two of the men went up via a ladder, tied rope around the sign, and lowered it to the ground. As they were gathering their tools to descend, the 23-year-old worker stepped backwards while trying to catch a rope thrown to him by his colleague on the ground and fell through a polycarbonate skylight.

He landed on the floor of the shop seven metres below, having hit a water tank on a ledge on the way down. Although he suffered severe bruising, he had no broken bones. The man was treated at the scene by paramedics and was hospitalised overnight. He returned to work some weeks later.

Environmental health officers from the City of Edinburgh Council investigated the incident and found that the signage company had failed to properly plan, supervise, or carry out the work properly. Scaffolding, a mobile access tower, or a mobile elevated work platform could have been used to gain safe access to the sign being replaced, they concluded.

The court heard that selection of the equipment for the job at the Remnant Kings premises had been left to the “common sense” of the men involved in the job, as no guidance had been provided by their employer.

Consequently, Forrest Hepburn and McDonald Signs Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of reg.4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was fined £6500. No costs are awarded in Scotland.

Councillor Robert Aldridge, environment leader at City of Edinburgh Council, commented: “This young man could have been very seriously injured, or worse. Falls from height are the main cause of deaths at work and also result in thousands of major injuries in the workplace each year. Employers must ensure working at height is suitably risk-assessed and that safe working practices are established and followed.”

Since the incident, Forrest Hepburn and McDonald Signs Ltd have introduced cherry-pickers for this type of job and issued instructions to employees that, for smaller jobs, scaffolding should be used. Site surveys undertaking while pricing jobs now include a risk assessment to ensure the work can be carried out safely.

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