Working at height: 4 companies that didn’t take risk assessment seriously

Roof risk assessment


"Falls from height, and in particular falls involving fragile roofs, are one of the main causes of work-related deaths in Britain. The risks are therefore well-known and documented, as is the guidance on how to reduce these."

HSE inspector Sandra Tomlinson



In previous blog articles we talked about the need to carry out suitable risk assessments when working at height, especially when regular maintenance tasks are identified. This article talks about 4 companies that should have taken a more thorough risk assessment approach.

Failure to produce any initial risk assessment

In the first case, the employee of a major supermarket was said to be lucky to suffer only minor injuries after falling 9 metres through a fragile skylight, landing in the shopping aisles of the store in Wallasey, Merseyside in June 2014. The worker was part of a team carrying out repairs to the store roof and gutters when the incident occurred.

This resulted in the companies involved being fined a total of £500,000.

HSE (the Health and Safety Executive) found that no risk assessment or method statement had been produced prior to carrying out the work.


Roof fall protection

Failure to utilise the correct equipment

This second incident shows just how inexcusable not specifying the correct equipment for a recurring task is.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive into an incident in May 2015 found that the company had not carried out a suitable risk assessment. The work at height involved closing the zipped flaps on the fabric liners used for containers that were being loaded with malt for export.

A 4-metre long ladder was propped against the rear of the container to gain access to the zip-up flap. The ladder was too long for this purpose and was propped at too shallow an angle, which caused it to slip outwards at the foot. As a result, the agency worker fell with the ladder, sustaining fractures to his right foot, bruising to his chest and head injuries.

The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,257.


Roof safety

Lack of appropriate management supervision

In this third devastating incident, someone paid the ultimate cost, while of course there were also financial implications which could potentially put a company out of business.

Richard Perry, 43, was working with a colleague covering roof lights with blackout vinyl in June 2014 at a company in Bradford. This was in an attempt to block out the sunlight and reduce the heat within the factory. Mr Perry fell 5.5 metres to his death through a fragile roof light to the fabrications department below.

The Company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £120,000 with £37,655 costs by Bradford Crown Court.


HSE Inspector Andrea Jones said:

“Two employees were on the roof for some time with no precautions in place to prevent falling through fragile roof material or off the open edge of the roof. This accident would not have happened if these two employees had been appropriately supervised by management.


Building work safety

Lack of planning and adequate safety equipment

This final incident, although not as a result of failings during regular maintenance, is worth mentioning due to the impact of the parties involved.

During a contract to demolish a building, it had originally been planned that plant machinery would be used to remotely bring down the structure. This method would have entailed minimum risk to the workmen tasked with the demolition.

However, between winning the contract and the work actually being carried out, the management decided to instead dismantle the building piece by piece. This meant that workmen had to work at height to remove the roof sheets prior to the structure being unbolted.

Despite one near miss, work resumed but subsequently a worker fell to his death. Two company owners were found guilty: one was jailed for 6 years, fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £55,000 court costs; the other was jailed for 8 months, fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £45,000 court costs.


Take risk assessment seriously

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