Ecology business in court over worker’s broken back with fall from height

An ecology consultancy has been fined for safety failings after an employee after an employee broke her back in a fall at a former psychiatric hospital site in Essex.

The worker who was surveying the loft space for wildlife in one of the derelict buildings at the hospital when she fell nearly four metres through a loft hatch onto a concrete floor.

She sustained a fractured vertebra at the base of her back and was in hospital for seven days. She needed to wear a back brace for three months to prevent bending or twisting between her neck and waist and was unable to work for several weeks.

The Health and safety Executive (HSE) Prosecuted the firm after an investigation found that the organisation which had been employed to carry out a survey of the hospital, hadn’t assessed the work to be undertaken properly.

Court heard that although the company was aware that the hospital buildings had not been used or maintained since the site closed in 1997, the assessment was too general and failed to identify the risks of falling through was  likely to be fragile and rotting timberwork in the disused loft spaces.

The firm was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,138.50 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

After the case, HSE Inspector Edward Crick said:

“A ‘one size fits all’ approach is obviously not suitable and the company’s tick-box approach to risk assessment failed to protect this worker.

Falling through fragile surfaces is a well-known risk, particularly in the construction industry, and any work at height needs to be properly assessed and managed, including sometimes seeing if the work needed can be done in a way that avoids any work at height at all.”

Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 states: “Every employer shall ensure that work at height is (a) properly planned; (b) appropriately supervised; and (c) carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe.”