Enforcing the law

Source: on 2013-12-09 13:43:06

One result of our blitzes on site safety issues such as roof work was a flood of phone calls from reputable contractors drawing our attention to sites that they felt didn't comply. One such call flagged up work on a warehouse building in the middle of town, where the roof was fragile asbestos cement and the contractor was taking no precautions at all. It sounded pretty bad so I thought I'd take a look. I had the bright idea of parking on the top floor of a multi-storey car park next to the warehouse, as this would allow a view from above before a formal visit. The view down onto the warehouse roof revealed that the caller had been spot-on. There were no crawling ladders, harnesses or edge protection in sight, although it was clear that the workers were using the rudimentary safeguard of "walking the bolts" - the line of bolts indicates a purlin or other roof member underneath, so following it is very marginally safer than walking on the open roof. I was just about to head down and serve a Prohibition Notice when there was a loud crack from the roof and one of the workers disappeared through a jagged hole that hadn't been there five seconds before. In the HSE it was considered very bad form to actually have a fatal accident happen in front of you and, rightly or wrongly, thoughts of a blighted career immediately flashed through my mind. Setting these aside, the immediate priority was clearly to go and find out how the man was and to offer assistance. But as I walked up to the warehouse building, I was absolutely amazed to meet the "dead" man walking out of the front entrance. He could not possibly imagine how pleased I was to see him, especially as he was showing such obvious signs of rude health, with no apparent injuries and all limbs present and correct. It turned out that the building was a major bedding warehouse, and the guy had managed to fall onto a very large pile of mattresses. Interestingly, he seemed to view his fall as a minor interruption to a busy day's work and appeared quite willing to get back up and continue despite the complete lack of adequate precautions. Intervention was clearly needed and no further work was done until the company took various precautions, not least the provision and use of a large number of suitable crawl boards. With the Work at Height Regulations 2005 has rightly come much publicity about the serious consequences of "low falls" (of less than the old benchmark figure of 2m). In this case, my warehouse Lazarus had fallen about 7m and had just walked away from it. Nowadays that pile of mattresses could perhaps be classified as "collective fall arrest", but on that day, I was just glad he had a soft landing! Standfirst: In the first of a new series, former HSE inspector Paul Smith reflects on the lighter side of enforcing health and safety law.

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