December’s Prosecutions: Firms still ignoring health and safety
On a less lighthearted note, the HSE showed that health and safety is no joke as they presided over this month’s raft of prosecutions, which included both near-misses and fatalities.
In a case that could have been much, much worse, Phillip McGinn of Stormguard Roofing was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,668 in prosecution costs after he and two other workers were photographed retiling the roof of a property in Maghull, Liverpool on 21 August this year. There were no safety measures in place to prevent them falling to the ground below.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sent an inspector to visit the site after receiving a complaint about the work from a member of the public. The inspector immediately issued a Prohibition Notice ordering the men to come down from the roof until it had been made safe.
South Sefton Magistrates' Court in Bootle was told that scaffolding had been erected at the front of the house, but there was nothing at the side or back of the roof to stop workers falling off. McGinn, pleaded guilty to a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
While there was no loss of life in his case, this was merely down to luck, as two other cases the HSE dealt with this month have shown.
In Hull, two firms and a company director were sentenced for joint safety failings relating to the death of a worker who plummeted more than eight metres through a fragile rooflight while cleaning gutters.
Kevin Jackson, a father of five, suffered multiple injuries including several fractures of his skull, 15 broken ribs and severe damage to his lungs and other internal organs. He died in hospital the same day.
The HSE prosecuted director Shaun Cavill, his company Cavill Property Maintenance Ltd, and Garthwest Ltd, after investigating the incident on 29 October 2009. The court heard how Mr `Jackson and a colleague had been hired by Cavills and director Shaun Cavill to clean the gutters and roof of Garthwest's factory in Rotterdam Road. The workers were not given any safety equipment, no protection measures were provided to reduce the risk of falling, and neither man had been trained to work safely at height.
Mr Jackson was on the roof working when his colleague heard a crash and turned to see him fall through a fragile factory rooflight to the concrete floor more than eight metres below.
The incident prompted the HSE to issue both companies with a prohibition notice preventing any further work at height at the site. Their subsequent investigation found a series of serious safety failings including no controls (e.g. boards or staging) used to prevent workers stepping onto a fragile surface, no edge protection on the roof and that no instructions were given to the workers about how to carry out the work safely.
Cavill Property Maintenance Ltd was fined £65,000.Garthwest Ltd was fined £50,000 with costs of £19,300 while Shaun Cavill was fined £25,000 on account of his own negligence as an individual director.
Following an equally preventable loss of life in the West Midlands, a steel company was ordered to pay more than £146,000 in fines after one its employees was crushed to death by a 15-tonne crane.
Wilfred Williams, 57, of Tividale, Warley, was carrying out maintenance on an overhead travelling crane at C Brown & Sons (Steel) Ltd in Dudley when the incident occurred on 27 May 2011.He was working six-and-a-half metres from the ground and stepped from the gantry he was working on to the rail of an adjacent crane and sat down. At this point the neighbouring crane was moved by an operator who had not seen Mr Williams and he was crushed against an upright stanchion.
Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Angela Gallagher said: "This tragic incident, which has had a devastating effect on Mr Williams's family, was entirely preventable.
"The requirement to prohibit cranes from approaching within six metres of any person working on or near the wheel tracks of the crane stretches back to the Factories Act 1961, yet the company failed to put in place sufficient measures to address this risk.
"Documents show the company had been aware of the risks for some time. A system to prevent falls from height - a line system whereby workers wearing a harness could clip onto the line - was being considered and an order was about to be placed at the time of the incident. However, the company had not put interim measures in place to prevent falls nor adequately assessed the risk of maintenance staff being crushed by moving cranes.
"The risks of working at height, especially around cranes, are very real and companies must have safe work procedures in place and train employees to use them. They must also have appropriate management systems in place to ensure they are followed."