Three firms fined £400,000 after near-fatal fall

A Crown Court ruling which saw three companies fined after a near-fatal fall revealed bad organisation and insufficient safety equipment.

Crown Court ruling

Three firms were fined a total of £400,000 after a worker fell seven metres through a fragile asbestos roof.

The worker was standing on the fragile roof at Dengie Crops Ltd in Asheldem when the asbestos sheeting gave way and he fell onto a concrete floor, hitting several pipes on the way down.

No protective equipment or safety netting was in place below to prevent the fall and the worker suffered a hematoma on the brain. He survived, but was left with life-changing injuries.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard the Health and Safety Executive found three companies at fault for the fall. Dengie Crops Ltd originally contracted Ernest Doe & Sons – an agricultural machinery supplier – to carry out the work. When they realised they did not have the required experience, Ernest Doe & Sons then subcontracted the work to Balsham (Buildings) Ltd.

Balsham then subcontracted the work to Strong Clad Ltd.

The court was told Ernest Doe & Sons could not perform their role as principal contractor as they had no experience in construction. This then led to the repeated subcontracting of the project and, eventually, to the worker’s severe injury.

Ernest Doe & Sons also did not see plans from Balsham (Building) Ltd which highlighted the possible fall risk. None of the companies were deemed to have put sufficient measures in place, and 40% of the roof had no protective netting. They also relied too heavily on verbal briefings to workers reminding them where the netting was, rather than putting effective safety measures across the entire roof.

Ernest Doe & sons Ltd, of Ulting, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching CDM Regulations and were fined £360,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000.

Balsham (Buildings) Ltd, of Balsham, Cambridge, pleaded guilty to safety breaches and were fined £45,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000.

Strong Clad Ltd, of Castle Hedingham, Essex also pleaded guilty and were fined £7,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,000.

HSE inspector Adam Hills said: “The dangers of working on fragile roofs are well documented. Every year too many people are killed or seriously injured due to falls from height while carrying out this work.

“Work at height requires adequate planning, organisation and communication between all parties. This incident was entirely preventable and the worker is lucky to be alive.”

Entirely preventable

The severe breakdown in communication led to safety issues not being dealt with correctly, and though there was netting placed beneath just 60% of the roof, there were no other safety measures in place.

When working with fragile roofs, the responsibility to ensure full safety and competency lies with the contractor, and all measures should be taken to protect workers.

The collapse of the fragile asbestos sheeting roof could have been prevented had the contractor invested in reliable protective measures, such as Easi-Dec’s Board-Walk system.

The lightweight aluminium walkway allows access from eaves to ridge whilst spreading the load on support battens and provides the user with a safer working position. It is particularly suitable for fragile roofs such as the one at Dengie Crops Ltd. The mesh walkway allows for full visibility and all weather use.