Work at height is well-known risk
On 31 October 2011 at Manchester Crown Court, J Mills (Contractors) Ltd was fined £145,000 after its failures resulted in an employee falling 10 metres through a skylight. The employee, Alan Kerwin, fractured his skull and developed post-traumatic epilepsy as a result of his injuries; two years after his fall, he died from an epileptic seizure.
Alan Kerwin was helping to replace a skylight on a warehouse in an industrial estate in Ashton-under-Lyne on 31 March 2007. As he placed his weight on the cement surrounding the glass of the skylight, the cement shattered, causing Kerwin to fall through onto a concrete floor.
The investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that the company, which carries out commercial refurbishment and maintenance work, had failed to carry out a risk assessment or implement any safety measures, for example boarding out the area, or supplying harnesses or nets. It also emerged that one week before the accident, Alan Kerwin’s line manager had, in person, received advice on fragile roof work from an HSE inspector during the HSE’s Height Aware campaign. The HSE believes the company would have avoided the accident had it followed the inspector’s advice.
The company argued that it had divided its portfolio into three groups, and that relatively small jobs of short duration – such as the job at this warehouse – fell into the lowest risk group, which did not have the protective systems present in the two other groups. The HSE pointed out, however, that such an approach was fundamentally flawed where work at height is involved.
Sentencing the company after it had admitted failing to ensure the safety of its employee (s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974), the judge said the offence was aggravated by the company’s failure to act on the HSE’s advice, and the fact that falls from height were a well-known risk for building and maintenance work. The fine represents 21.6% of J Mills (Contractors) Ltd’s most recent annual profits of £671,452.