Solar installer breaks back in fall from height

Published:  25 November, 2013

A Monmouth construction firm and its managing director have been fined for safety failings after a labourer fell more than four metres through a fragile barn roof, breaking his back on his first day working for the company.

The 36-year-old man was carrying a solar panel when he fell through roof of the barn in Warwickshire on 24 February 2012, landing on the concrete floor below. His injuries included two fractured vertebrae in his lower back, requiring a brace to be worn for two months, a broken wrist, which had to be pinned, and a bruised heel.

Leamington Spa Magistrates Court heard on 21 November that D & R Maintenance Solutions and its managing director, John Dunmore, were aware the roof was fragile and verbally warned employees to be careful, but did not ensure that the job was properly planned or carried out safely.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found equipment provided for accessing and working on the fragile roof was not suitable, and four employees were working unsafely using single scaffold boards and crawl boards without guardrails or harnesses, and at times stepping on the roof itself.

No guardrails were in place around the roof perimeter to prevent falls from the edge, and no measures to mitigate the consequences of a fall through the fragile roof were in use, such as fall arrest harnesses, netting, or soft landing systems.

The injured man and another colleague were both working for the firm for the first time that day but neither had been given proper instruction or training for working at height.

D & R Maintenance Solutions Ltd of Cross Vane, Penalt, Monmouth, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay £3,357 costs.

Dunmore, 54, of Cross Vane, Penalt, Monmouth, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £3,357 costs.

HSE inspector Luke Messenger said: “D & R Maintenance Solutions Limited, and John Dunmore, its managing director, had received relevant previous verbal and written advice from HSE regarding work on fragile roofs but failed to take basic precautions to prevent falls.

“As a result, an employee was injured on his first day with the company. Considering he fell 4.5 metres, he was fortunate not to suffer more serious or even fatal injuries.

He added: “Work at height must be properly planned and carried out safely, particularly when working on or near fragile roofs. Staff need to have the right equipment, receive correct training and supervision and safe operating procedures should be in place.”

For further information on HSE’s work and advice for roof workers, go to www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/roofwork.htm