Real Consequences of Work at Height Failures - Fines and Prosecutions

Posted in Safety, Working at Height on Jan 11, 2017 Comments

We've talked before about the consequences of not providing adequate training in Working at Height, but the risks we're talking about are not abstract. They're very real, and potentially extremely damaging to people, property and businesses.

If a business doesn't see the need to provide Working at Height training to employees who undertake work at height, the business is not only putting those employees at risk of injury, they're also risking their business.

Investigations, Fines and Prosecutions

The Health and Safety Executive is the national regulator for health and safety in the workplace, and they inspect, investigate, and enforce safety requirements.

Businesses who are found to be at fault during an HSE investigation may be prosecuted under a variety of safety laws, and business owners face signifcant fines and punishments.

Examples

There are hundreds of prosecutions under health and safety legislation each year. These examples highlight a few points that we think are especially important to be aware of, but there are plenty more like them. You can see a list of prosecutions on the HSE website.

Large Companies

Volvo received a £900,000 fine after a worker fell and suffered severe head injuries after using a ladder that was not fit for purpose. The company had not trained staff to select, inspect, and use work at height equipment.

Even large companies make mistakes with working at height regulations, but will be prosecuted the same as any other. It's not just local scaffolding companies that are investigated by HSE - any company that doesn't uphold the laws and regulations around workplace safety is at risk of prosecution.

Multiple defendants

Three companies were fined after one worker died and another received serious injuries after an unsuitable temporary platform for working at height collapsed, resulting in a 16m fall. A third individual was hit be falling debris and also sustained serious injuries. The fines totalled over £1 million.

Three companies were held responsible in this case, so working for another organisation doesn't absolve a business of responsibility.

Often cases will include more than one defendant - sometimes the contractor and a subcontractor, sometimes the business and an individual company director, sometimes multiple companies all of whom should have had some responsibility.

Prison

A company director was jailed for 12 months following the death of a worker who had not been adequately trained on the use of a MEWP, and the ramps and lorry used to transport it. The business was also fined £166,000 plus 10,400 in costs.

This is a stark reminder that company directors may be held to be personally responsible for the safety of their staff, and may be sentenced to a period of imprisonment for breaches.

Near Misses

A Kent company was fined £160,000 for breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005, after an employee nearly fell through the fragile roof he was working on.

This demonstrates that a "near miss" may still result in a prosecution - the worker "nearly" fell through the roof but the fact that he could have done was enough to pursue the case.

Foreign Companies

A Bulgarian firm was fined £500,000 for unsafe working at height practices. Workers were lifted into the air with a pallet on the end of a telehandler. Inappropriate equipment and no safety measures were reported.

Overseas companies working in the UK are subject to the same laws and regulations as local companies, and will be prosecuted and fined by the same standards.

No Injuries

A roofer was fined for unsafe roofing work, using a ladder rather than a scaffold at a height of 8m, with no fall protection. No one was injured but the worker could have fallen or passers by could have been injured by falling debris.

The fact that no injuries or tragedies are sustained during unsafe working practices does not mean that the HSE cannot prosecute. If unsafe work is reported and investigated, enforcement may be carried out due to the potential for harm, not the actuality of it.

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