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Companies Still Failing on Falls

Last month the Health and Safety Executive successfully prosecuted Eric and Robert Murray after one of their workers suffered catastrophic injuries following a fall from height. The Murrays are due to be sentenced later this month.

The shocking picture of worker Alan Hind which featured in last week’s Cumberland News should be a warning to employer and employee alike about the life-threatening risks of inadequate safety equipment. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 place duties on employers, the self-employed and any person who controls the work of others, for example principal contractors  and building owners who contract others to do work at height.

 “Work at height” means work in any place, including a place at or below ground level, where a person could be injured if they fell from that place. It also includes the means of obtaining access to, or a way out from, such a place while at work (except by a staircase in a permanent workplace).

If you owe duties to people working at height, what are you required to do by the Regulations?  The overriding principle is that you must take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance likely to cause personal injury.  You must therefore:

  • Avoid work at height where possible.
  • If working at height cannot be avoided, use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls.
  • Where the risk of a fall cannot be removed entirely, use work equipment or other measures to reduce the risk of injury should the fall occur.

Risk assessments are now a regular part of a business’ health and safety management. Under these Regulations businesses must take account of risk assessment when considering work at height.  You must identify what the hazard is and the degree of risk present.  This then allows you to take the necessary precautions to prevent injury occurring.

Further, the Regulations require you to ensure that:

  • All work at height is properly planned and organised.
  • All work at height takes account of weather conditions.
  • Those working at height are trained and competent.
  • The place where work at height is carried out is safe.
  • The equipment for work at height is appropriately inspected.
  • The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled.
  • The risks from falling objects are properly controlled.

The Regulations specifically require you to ensure that work at height is properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner that is as safe as reasonably practicable. You must therefore consider all of the factors that may influence safety, including the workplace itself, the equipment used and the weather conditions in which people will be working.  Most importantly of all, you must assess the people actually doing the work. Are they properly trained? If they are in the process of being trained, are they properly supervised?

Every employer should be aware of the relevance of these Regulations to their business. An office worker trying to open an inaccessible window or a sales assistant attempting to reach high stock are both at risk of a serious fall – it may be surprising but two thirds of major injuries were caused by falls from a height of less than two metres.

James Johnston qualifies as a solicitor later this month and will be specialising in Health and Safety. For information about the Work at Height Regulations, call James on 01228 552222.

About the author

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James Johnston

James is a Partner and Head of the firm’s Dispute Resolution team.

Published: Thursday 7th October 2010
Categorised: Corporate Law, Serious Injury

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