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Working at Height Accidents and Injuries

Working at height accidents

Personal Injury Solicitor, John Hasson Looks at the Law Relating to Accidents that can Occur when Working at Height.

Unsurprisingly accidents often occur as a result of people falling when working at height. When we think about injuries arising from working at height we would naturally assume that that the accident victims are quite a way off the ground, for example working on a ladder, scaffolding or a roof. However this does not need to be the case.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 govern the steps which employers should take to prevent, or at least minimise the risk of accidents occurring in these situations. Reg 6(3) defines working at height as “falling a distance liable to cause personal injury”. No minimum height or distance is set out in the regulations. As a consequence, employers should carry out the necessary risk assessments set out in the regulations when any employee is required to work at any distance off the ground where a fall from the height may result in injury. The regulations also apply if an employee is working below ground level. This is because someone below ground level can still be working above the level of the floor.

There is a popular misconception that these regulations prevent employees from working on ladders. That is not the case. The regulations simply state that adequate risk assessments should be carried out when any work at height is required and that ladders should only be used if no other means of access is available which would be more appropriate. Even then there are strict guidelines as to the type of ladder to be used and the manner in which it is to be used e.g. it should only be used for short periods, the surface on which the ladder is resting must be stable, firm and of sufficient strength and the ladder should be adequately secured before and during use. Wherever possible, alternatives to ladders should be used, for example mobile working platforms, cherrypickers or scaffolding as these are generally regarded as being more stable and provide a larger working area.

If employees are working at height then the risk assessment should ensure that adequate guardrails and barriers are in place to prevent falls or falling injuries. Protective equipment should be provided such as safety harnesses and devices designed to arrest falls, such as airbags and crash decks. The Work at Height Regulations are not designed to prevent employees from working at heights that could potentially cause injury if there was a fall but rather to ensure that such work is properly planned, suitable risk assessments are carried out by competent experienced people, the work equipment provided is suitable for the task and has been tested and that suitable safety equipment has been supplied.

The majority of these regulations could be regarded as being “common sense” steps that any reasonable and safety conscious employer would take voluntarily. There should rarely be any reason why safety equipment and working platforms (other than ladders) have not been provided by the employer as such equipment widely available for hire. The Health and Safety Executive takes this issue very seriously and has provided guidance on its website in relation to the Work at Height Regulations and their application. The HSE will prosecute employers that it finds have failed to comply with their obligations under these Regulations.

In 2012 such a prosecution was mounted against a building company in Harrow when an employee fell 7m whilst working on the roof of a building in Belgravia that was being refurbished. It was the opinion of the HSE that at the time of the accident, the safety equipment that had been provided by the building company was wholly inadequate. During proceedings at Westminster Magistrates Court the company pleaded guilty and was fined £30,000.

Slee Blackwell have an enviable track record of succeeding in personal injury claims for people injured as a result of falls from height. Examples of recent cases include :- Mr R who was a trainee joiner working on a construction site. He fell whilst working on a new mezzanine floor at a building conversion in Covent Garden London. Despite working at height Mr R was not provided with a safety harness and unknown to Mr R, a crash deck which had been placed under the area where he was working had been removed. As a result of the fall Mr R suffered a back injury. We agreed to take on the injury claim on a no win – no fee basis and after obtaining medical evidence the claim settled for £7,500.

Mr M was an HGV driver from Preston. When attempting to deliver a loaded trailer to a warehouse in Neston he noticed that the load had slipped. Mr M climbed onto the back of the loaded trailer to try and prevent the load falling further. Unfortunately in doing so Mr M fell from the back of the trailer and injured his back. Even though Mr M fell from the back of a loaded trailer it was still possible to argue that the Work at Height Regulations applied. This was because Mr M fell a distance that was liable to cause personal injury. The Defendants disagreed and disputed liability. The matter proceeded to trial and the Court found in favour of Mr M. The employer was judged to have breached its duty under the Regulations and the Court awarded Mr M £8,000 compensation and ordered that they pay Mr M’s legal costs. Under our New Deal scheme Mr M received every penny of the compensation awarded to him.

These 2 cases illustrate the variety of accidents that can involve the Work at Height Regulations. Slee Blackwell are currently involved in a number of other ongoing injury claims that involve these regulations. If you have been involved in an accident at work or been injured as a result of a fall at work then contact our specialist Personal Injury team on 0808 139 1590 for a free case assessment. If your claim is accepted we will deal with it on a No Win, No Fee basis and guarantee you will revive 100% compensation.