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August 10, 2011

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Worker seriously hurt in fall from inadequately protected fragile roof

A self-employed roofer on his first day on a site in Rotherham fell six metres to the ground through a fragile roof because a safe system of work was not implemented.

Michael Hawkins, 23, had been sub-contracted by Mechanical Solutions Ltd, of Mansfield, to help steel-clad the asbestos cement roof a large industrial building at Cotes Park Lane, Somercotes, Derbyshire.

The HSE investigation into the incident, which occurred on 16 June 2009, found part of the roof was only single thickness and therefore considerably weaker in some areas than others, yet the company failed to identify how fragile it was. The single-skin section was being used to store materials and it was while he was retrieving items from this area that Mr Hawkins fell.

He underwent six operations in just six months, including a large skin graft to his back and has been unable to return to work since.

Derby magistrates, sitting on 3 August, heard that Mechanical Solutions Ltd had failed to ensure the work was properly planned, appropriately supervised, or carried out in a safe manner. Its own method statement stated that harnesses were to be used near unprotected edges; however, no provision had been made for use of harnesses either in the single-thickness area, where the incident occurred, or the adjacent unguarded roof edge.

The method statement also stated all skylights and openings must be protected, but no evidence of this was found. Guard rails for access boards used to move about the main asbestos-cement roof were either missing or incomplete. There was also no safety protection underneath, such as netting, to prevent workers from falling through the roof into the factory below.

The HSE served a Prohibition Notice after the incident preventing a return to work on, or near the fragile roof until a safe system was in place to prevent another fall.

Mechanical Solutions Ltd, of Acorn Business Park, Commercial Gate, Mansfield, pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £5366.

The company expressed its regret over the incident and acknowledged the serious injury to Mr Hawkins. It took corrective action quickly after the incident – a new method statement was issued within days and it spent £16,000 on improvements. The company entered an early guilty plea and had no previous health and safety convictions.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Carol Southerd said: “This was not an isolated lapse. Work had been taking place on the roof for weeks before the incident happened. It is clear Mr Hawkins and other workers were able to enter freely on to an inadequately protected area of a hazardous fragile roof. They were exposed to significant risk of serious or fatal injury.”

She concluded: “The company fell far short of the expected standard in the system of work. There was inadequate risk assessment, instruction and supervision.”

Mr Hawkins said: “I have suffered serious injuries, numerous surgical procedures and permanent scarring as a direct result of the company’s failure to ensure that the task could be carried out safely. I have been unable to work since and my future job prospects are limited as I am unable to return to my job as a roofer. The effects of the fall will be with me for the rest of my life.

“I hope others can learn from what has happened. I would not want anyone else to go through what I’ve been through.”

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11 years ago

If the incident occurred in Somercotes, Derbyshire, why was Rotherham (which is in South Yorkshire) mentioned??