22 April, 2021
Notwithstanding that a principal contractor may not directly employ the injured employee, they can still be found to be in breach of their s2 and s3 duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 if they fail to review the sub contractor's risk assessments prior to the start of works or check for its adequacy. The subcontractors were also in breach and sentenced. The difference in sentence reflects the turnover of each organisation.
Two companies have been fined after a worker sustained serious injuries by falling approximately three metres through a hole cut into a floor during the refurbishment of a property in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
Chelmsford Magistrates' Court heard how on 27 July 2017, an employee was working as a dry liner for R&B Plastering Limited, who were contracted on the site to Robert Norman Construction Limited, the principal contractor.
The employee was working on the second floor of the property, near to a hole that had been cut into the floor to facilitate plaster board being passed up from the level below. The employee fell approximately three metres through the hole, causing him to sustain fractures to his vertebrae and ribs, and severe bruising.
He required hospitalisation for nineteen days and had to wear a back brace for six months. He also suffers ongoing physical and psychological issues as a result of the incident.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the hole was not adequately protected via covering or access. R&B Plastering Limited had put a risk assessment in place for the work, but it was not adequate, and was not provided to the principal contractor prior to work commencing.
The principal contractor's own policy outlined the need to review any sub-contractors' risk assessments prior to them starting work; and by failing to follow this policy the principal contractor missed any opportunity to review R&B Plastering's risk assessment.
Robert Norman Construction Limited were found guilty in their absence to breaching Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and have been fined £140,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,426.
R&B Plastering Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and have been fined £26,700 and ordered to pay costs of £8,426.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Prentiss Clarke-Jones said: "The employee's injuries are life-changing and he could have easily been killed. The incident could have been avoided if both companies had fully implemented safe systems of work and identified, during the planning stages, that materials would need to be safely transported between floors.
"Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related injuries in this country, and the controls needed to prevent the associated risks are well known. Dutyholders should follow the guidance on planning works to ensure that risks such as this work at height can be eliminated in the first instance by allowing safe means of access."
The HSE annual statistics 2020 reported that falls from height accounted for 8% of all non-fatal injuries to employees reported by employers via the RIDDOR procedure (65,427). The same report highlighted that for fatal injuries to employees (111 in 2019/20), falls from height accounted for the highest number of fatal injuries at 29. The construction industry was by far the highest number by industry type (totalling 40 fatal injuries).
Therefore it is not wholly surprising that it is a sector that the HSE will focus on during the course of their enforcement procedures.
Under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) there can be shared duties on both the principal contractor and other contractors undertaking work under the control of the principal contractor. It is the principal contractor who would usually plan and co-ordinate and have responsibility for health and safety during the construction phase of a project.
Equally, it is important that, during the pre-construction phase, when selecting contractors on a project, principal contractors ensure that they focus on the competency of selected contractors and ensure that there is proper plan and co-ordination of the work to be undertaken so that each contractor knows the extent of their duties and responsibilities. It is also incumbent on the principal contractor to examine risk assessments and method statements carried out by their selected contractors to ensure that there are no obvious problems or errors before work commences and that this continues to be monitored during the life of the works.
If there is a failure to act in accordance with their duties under the CDM regulations then principal contractors, as in this case, face the risk of enforcement procedures being brought against them for breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the associated regulations.