Worker died fitting windows

A site manager has been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter following the death of a worker who fell through a skylight while fitting windows on the first floor of a property.

The experienced window fitter was working over a weekend fitting windows on the first floor when he fell 3m through an open skylight on the first floor flat roof. 

HSE inspectors had already issued a prohibition notice on the site manager, stipulating that any work at height had to be stopped, but on two subsequent visits, one after the fatality, they found evidence that work had continued.  Police also attended the site and found that the order had been breached so arrested the site manager and charged him with manslaughter by gross negligence.

Following the incident a joint investigation was carried out by Leicestershire Police and the HSE where it was found that there were serious health and safety failings on the site.  These included:

  • No scaffolding provided where the windows were to be fitted
  • Access to the first floor from a broken, untethered ladder
  • No safe method of taking the windows up to the first floor
  • Ladders not secured on site
  • One ladder was found to be balanced on a pile of sand
  • No PPE being worn on site
  • Openings in ceilings were not guarded;
  • scaffolding was not properly secured on the site.

The site manager was found guilty and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for manslaughter by gross negligence and 8 months in prison for the health and safety offences.

On sentencing the Judge said “It seems the defendant had no idea of the responsibilities he had for maintaining the safety of the site. The defendant paid no regard to health and safety requirements whatsoever.”

The Detective Constable who led the investigation stated that: “The investigation revealed that scaffolding outside the building was constructed haphazardly. It was not fitted with appropriate walkways but just a few unsecure planks of wood. Nobody on site was wearing any personal protective equipment, there were no warning signs anywhere and no qualified first aider on site.” While the Detective Inspector on the case added: “We also hope this case acts as a deterrent to others in the building trade and ensures they think about the health and safety of their workers at all times.”

As we outlined in our Blog – Ladder Safety for the Glazing Industry, ladders should only be used when a more suitable alternative is not justified.  If a ladder is being used on lower level work such as installing windows at first floor level, you should always use a ladder stability device and, whenever possible, tie the ladder to a suitable anchorage to prevent the ladder slipping sideways. Materials should ideally be transported from inside the building rather than a ladder, but if this isn't possible, units should be lifted using two ladders or specially designed equipment such as an access platform with a lifting mechanism.