The number of fatal injuries to workers in the UK has steadily decreased over the last 20 years, however the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) still gives a provisional figure of 173 for 2011/12, which equates to a rate of 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was brought into force in April 2008 to place responsibility onto employers for fatal injuries caused to employees through poor health and safety practices.
The Act is only applicable to deaths which occurred from April 2008 onwards, and Lion Steel Equipment, which makes storage products, became one of just three companies to be charged under the Act, following the death of worker Steven Berry on 28 May 2008.
Mr Berry fell 40ft through a fragile roof panel he was trying to fix at the company’s site in Hyde, Cheshire and subsequently died from his injuries, having landed on a stone floor. Conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter Act holds unlimited fines, and Lion Steel Equipment faced the heaviest fines of the three companies so far convicted, at £480,000 plus prosecution costs of £84,000. It was found that the company never offered the victim health and safety training, and that considerable sections of the roof were fragile. Nevertheless, no risk assessments were carried out for employees working on the roof.
Mr Berry’s case isn’t all that unusual, sadly. In fact, 60% of the deaths occurring when working at height involve falls through fragile roofs or roof lights. Failure to provide adequate fall arrest training and systems, and safety equipment to employees is the root cause of the majority of incidents and, as the Lion Steel Equipment case shows, can prove extremely costly, with even individual directors and managers being held accountable, as well as the company itself.
So what should the company have done to avoid Mr Berry’s death? First of all, companies should assess the situation and decide if working at height can be avoided. If this isn’t the case, then measures must be taken to assess how to access the roof safely (getting on and off), including getting materials on and off the roof safely, and put measures in place to prevent people and materials falling. While work is being carried out, workers need to be able to work safely and without risk. This includes making sure the roof is stable and has no fragile areas which can be accessed (which is what Lion Steel Equipment failed to do), and ensuring that weather conditions are suitable for carrying out the work.
Fall protection should always be favoured over fall arrest, as prevention is better than cure. However, fall arrest systems are still necessary should the worst happen, protecting the individual. Restraints and fall arrest systems need to have a strong anchor point, even if this is for temporary anchors, and an effective rescue system. Should a worker fall, they need to be able to be rescued, the fall arrest system having come into play.