Scaffolding and Prosecutions

Scaffolding comes up regularly in my Safety Matters column in Elevation magazine so I thought I would take the opportunity to share again here and outline some prosecutions with you to focus your minds!

In 2014 a scaffolding firm was hit with a £5,000 fine after photographs emerged of a worker dangling his legs over the edge of one of its dangerous structures. The company risked the lives of its workers and passers- by on a busy central London street by failing to secure boards on their five-storey platforms and not setting up safety rails.

The London-based company was carrying out work on Tavistock Street in Aldwych, Central London where pedestrians were so concerned they took pictures of the precariously perched workers and sent them to safety authorities.

When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) received the images they investigated the company and found the work was ‘poorly planned’ and that two of the workers were untrained. HSE said the pictures showed workers using unsecure and ‘precariously balanced’ boards to pass materials to higher levels. They also showed a worker sitting near the top of the five storey structure casually dangling his legs over the side.

The company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £734 in costs after pleading guilty at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to two breaches of the Work at Height Regulations.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said: ‘Scaffolding work is fraught with risk and can be extremely dangerous if it isn’t carried out properly. The standards here were sorely lacking and the photographic evidence speaks for itself in terms of the risks taken.

None of the missing measures, such as guard rails and secured boards and ladders, were difficult to provide, and there was no excuse.

In a second case

A Merseyside scaffolding firm was fined £300,000 after a dad-of-three fell to his death.

Adrian Smith, 44, had returned to work on light duties after having had a heart attack just two days before he died at work in September 2012. The company pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter after failing to heed health and safety warnings or taking reasonable steps to ensure the safety of employees tasked to carry out work on the roof of the shed at the firm’s headquarters. Owen Edwards, prosecuting, said: “It was an accident waiting to happen.” In the days prior to Mr Smith’s death, three men were seen on neighbouring CCTV working on the roof at various times.

The men were carrying out repairs to storm damage in preparation for a valuation on the property.

A hand-painted notice inside the building read: “Bad Roof”, and a previous insurance claim to hire specialist contractors with the necessary experience, training and equipment costed the job at £100,000.

But the court heard the insurance claim only resulted in a £20,000 payout and a decision was taken for workers from the company to carry out the work instead.

It is understood he was asked to carry out the work by the son of the company director, who took a leading role in the running of the company.

He suffered multiple fractures to his skull, a brain injury and fractures to his wrist.

John Cooper QC, defending, said there was little mitigation he could offer but extended deep regret and sincere condolences to Mr Smith’s widow Marie Price and their family. Mr Justice Turner, sentencing, said: “By anyone’s standards this is a most tragic case. The death of a relatively young man leaving behind him a grieving widow, friends and family is something that the court must prioritise. These sort of cases are extremely difficult because whatever fine is imposed will never bring a victim back to life and whatever fine is imposed will never measure the value of the life of that person. This death was entirely foreseeable. The state of this roof was well known to management and the defendant company and the sort of precautions that ought to have been taken to prevent this man falling to his death were obvious. The whole business of setting about repairs to this roof was done without regard for the safety of those who were there.”

The court heard the company had a previous conviction for health and safety breaches in 2002 in which scaffolding defects led to a man suffering serious injuries and members of the public being put at risk.

Mr Justice Turner said in imposing the £300,000 fine he had to balance the need to punish the company against the risk of punishing innocent employees who would lose their jobs if the company went out of business.

He ordered the fine be paid at £30,000 a year for 10 years.

The firm was due to be sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court in July but the case was adjourned when High Court judge Mr Justice Turner told the prosecution about another conviction for health and safety breaches in 2002, which they did not know about.

The judge said he was “slightly uncomfortable” having read a statement from the company, which “seems to suggest that you were doing business for 40 years and had a good record”.

The statement had not mentioned the previous conviction, when they were fined £75,000 and told to pay £58,920 in costs over an accident in 2002 when three labourers were seriously injured when its scaffolding collapsed.

In the third case

A photograph snapped by a concerned passer by has led to the prosecution of the owner of a Surrey based scaffolding firm.

The member of the public took the photos back and was so shocked by what he had witnessed that he sent them to the HSE.

The photos clearly show the owner and his employees working at a height of around 9m, while standing on a single tube with no fall protection in place. The individual from Surrey was fined £265 and ordered to pay £511 in costs after admitting a breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Following the hearing he was criticised by HSE for putting his own life and the lives of two other workers at risk “by carrying out this scaffolding job in a totally unsafe manner.”