The Work at Height Regulations 2005 state that a “place is at height if … a person could be injured falling from it, even if it is at or below ground level.” Although that might seem a bit confusing, it just means that the regulations apply to any situation where someone could fall and hurt themself.
And every year, thousands of people do. In 2005/6, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that over 3,300 workers suffered a major injury as a result of a fall, 46 of them fatal. A third involved ladders and stepladders. On average these account for 14 deaths and 1200 major injuries each year.
Outline of the regulations
The regulations state that employers must try to avoid situations where employees have to work at height. If that is not possible they must ensure that:
- they have assessed the risks from work at height
- they have selected and used appropriate work equipment
- the work has been properly planned and supervised
- they have taken account of any adverse weather conditions
- their employees are trained and competent
- the location is safe
- the equipment has been regularly inspected and maintained
- the risks from fragile surfaces have been assessed and all possible protection has been provided
- Where use of a ladder is unavoidable, it should only be used for short periods (the HSE suggests between 15 and 30 minutes) in situations of low risk. In all other circumstances, employers should use a mobile elevating work platform.
Falls from ladders
Unfortunately, not all employers take notice of these precautions. Take the case of Robin Watkins, a Birmingham City Council worker whose job was to service and repair playground park equipment.
He fell and broke his ankle badly (leaving him with a permanent disability) when his ladder slipped sideways, throwing him off balance.
The council initially denied liability but, after Thompsons pointed out that they had failed to provide him with suitable work equipment, had failed to do a risk assessment and had not complied with the Work at Height Regulations, they admitted liability. Mr Watkins settled for £21,000 and his employer subsequently sent him on ladder and scaffolding courses.
Commenting on his case, Marc Ruff, at Thompsons Solicitors in Birmingham, said: “His decision to proceed with his case was important, and not just for the compensation. His actions mean that others are less likely to suffer a similar fate in the future.”
But of course, if more employers followed the guidance from the HSE, there would be fewer accidents. This tells employers, among other things, to ensure that the floor surface is level and solid before allowing employees to climb a ladder. Advice that Ian Mitchell’s employer, Condor Environmental PLC, ignored at their cost.
Mr Mitchell, a fibre glass laminator, lost his balance and fell from a ladder that had been placed on an uneven floor caused by pieces of fibreglass that had hardened over time. Had the employer done even a minimal risk assessment, the danger would have been identified.
Thompsons said the company had breached regulation 12 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the company eventually agreed to settle. Mr Mitchell received £90,000 in compensation.
And it is self-evident that employers need to provide their employees with the correct equipment to do the job. But as a result of his employer’s failure to do so, Alan Arthur (a moulding machine operator for Lectroheat Industrial Heating Limited) suffered a compound fracture to his left leg which left him permanently disabled.
The issue was the lack of a proper height ladder. Mr Arthur was using an eight foot ladder to retrieve a pattern board from the stores when he had the accident.
He was standing on one of the top rungs when, as he attempted to step down, he missed his footing and fell. Had he had either a longer ladder or a better system, such as a gantry, to access the boards the accident would not have happened.
The company eventually admitted liability for negligence and breach of statutory duty under the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 and/or the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Thompsons secured compensation of over £77,000 for him. Eamonn McDonough, Mr Arthur's representative, said: “Mr Arthur suffered a compound fracture to his left shin bone which was very painful.
He was off work for eight months and has undergone extensive treatment to fix the fracture. He is left with very stiff movement of some of the bones in the ankle – arthritis is anticipated and within 10 years an operation to fuse the injured joint is likely.”
To provide protection to more employees, the Work At Height Regulations were amended in April 2007 so that they now apply to the adventure activities industry. For instance, instructors on climbing and caving courses.
As working at height is often unavoidable for people working in this sector, the HSE emphasises the importance of good organisation and forward planning by employers, particularly for emergencies and rescues.
The regulations state that anyone working in the sector must be properly trained and competent to lead an activity and to carry out risk assessments.
When carrying out an assessment, employers should, at the very least:
- identify the hazards
- decide who might be harmed and how
- evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
- record their findings and implement them
- review their assessment and update if necessary.
Thompsons Solicitors are experts in all personal injury matters and can advise employees whether or not they have a valid claim for compensation.
Falls from ladders
The HSE advises employers to:
- use a ladder for jobs of limited duration doing light work only
- make sure they use the right sort of ladder for the particular surface conditions
- ascertain that the surface is level and solid
- look for obvious physical defects in the ladder before allowing it to be used
- ensure workers know how to use them safely