It is always upsetting to hear of someone losing their life in an accident at work. Nobody leaves home in the morning not expecting to come back. But it is particularly distressing – for the victim’s family and friends, colleagues and those in the wider industry – when you know that a death could easily have been prevented.
At Highwire we are obviously acutely aware of incidents where a properly designed and utilised fall-arrest system would have saved lives. We want all employers and operators to fully understand the risks and that just taking the time to put professional precautions in place before undertaking what may seem like a basic job at height can literally be the difference between life and death.
In 2012, Cheshire firm Lion Steel Equipment pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter and was fined £480,000 over the fatal fall of maintenance worker Steven Berry at its Hyde site in Greater Manchester. Berry had gone on to the roof in an attempt to locate and repair the source of a leak but he was unsupervised, untrained and wasn’t provided with a fall-arrest harness, crawl boards or any other safety equipment. The roof had several fragile sections, about which there were no warning signs, and it is believed that Berry may have been taking a short cut when he fell through a fibreglass rooflight 13 metres to the factory floor.
The judge responsible for the case described the accident as “entirely foreseeable” with “no precautions being taken to guard against something going wrong”.
“No one told me”
Lion Steel had in fact been previously warned by a Health & Safety Executive inspector about the lack of signs in reference to fragile sections of the roof, but that was just one of the factors contributing to Berry’s death and the firm had not been given specific directions concerning its working-at-height procedures at the site. It is all too easy for business owners to assume that their insurance providers would raise any issues that need to be considered or addressed, but in reality they don’t usually do so, are under no legal obligation to advise in that way, and are rarely qualified in height safety. It is not a defence for a company to say that the insurers haven’t mentioned something!
Make time to plan
If a firm does not already have full, appropriate systems in place for working at height, including on a roof, any maintenance work must wait until expert input has been sought and a proper, safe solution is in place. This is more critical than ever in situations where ‘emergency repairs’ are needed – an unplanned decision to check out a roof because a leak has suddenly sprung or there has been weather damage is far more likely to be approached hastily and without safeguards in place. Even in an era of the most advanced high-tech equipment, sometimes the right answer in the short term is a bucket on the floor to catch the drips while a properly planned repair is organised!