News & Views

Company fined for working at height failings

BY Steve Briggs
Health & Safety
BG Orange

A Yorkshire-based international packing company put the lives of its workers at risk over several years, a court has been told.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered a long-term systemic failure to ensure the safety of employees during the construction of wooden packing crates at Neal Brothers Ltd, when it launched an investigation last year. Employees regularly worked on top of crates with no measures in place to safeguard against falls.

The discovery came as a result of an HSE visit to the firm’s base. The inspector saw an employee working on the top of a wooden crate, more than four metres high, with no safety measures to prevent falls.

Huddersfield Magistrates' Court was told that the company had been served with an enforcement notice in 2004 requiring safety improvements for activities that required working at heights over two metres.

The firm had then introduced harnesses for employees when at high levels but the investigation showed their use had been short lived and the firm reverted to previous unsafe practices.

The HSE Inspector served a further enforcement notice on the company repeating the requirement to improve its system of working at height and began inquiries into its apparent history of safety failings. His evidence, gathered from staff and witnesses, showed harnesses had not been used since at least 2006.

Neal Brothers (Leicester) Ltd admitted failing to ensure the safety of employees at its Holmfirth site over a four year period from April 2006. The company was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay £3,289.20 in costs.

Inspector Geoff Fletcher, who carried out the investigation, said: “It became clear that employees carried out a range of work activities at heights of up to four metres, yet there was nothing in place to safeguard them from falls. The company failed to learn the lesson it should have following the enforcement notice back in 2004 and allowed unsafe systems of work to become accepted practice, carrying on for at least four years.”

Falls from height are the commonest cause of fatal injuries in the workplace and are also responsible for a large percentage of the most serious occupational injuries. In 2008/9 there were 35 deaths, 4,654 major injuries and a further 7,065 injuries that caused the injured person to be off work for over three days or more, due to a fall from height.

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