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18th May 2017

Must You Use Edge Protection?

Following a fatal fall from height, the HSE built a case against a builder in which it was alleged that he failed to ensure suitable edge protection and was therefore responsible for the accident. Rather surprisingly the builder got off the charges – What happened in Court?

The accident

In 2014 a builder appointed a subcontract roofer to complete roof repairs on a property just outside Ashford in Ken. Both parties reviewed the job and agreed on the safe systems of work to be followed. They decided that the safest and most practical option was to use a roof anchor and harness system.

However, although the roofer agreed to use the system at all times, he failed to do so. To make matters worse he also chose to sit on the edge of the roof to answer a phone call, and unfortunately whilst getting up he slipped backwards and fell over the edge – he later died from his injuries.

HSE intervention

An inspector from the HSE visited the site and served a prohibition notice on the job. The notice stated that the builder had failed to ‘ensure suitable edge protection had been provided to prevent falls over the low parapet wall.’ When presented with evidence that work at height had in fact been fully considered, the inspector refused to accept this response and stated that it in his opinion it was possible to put edge protection around the area, and therefore this is what the builder should have done.

Despite attempts to convince the Inspector otherwise, he dug in his heels and refused to lift the prohibition notice until full edge protection was installed. The builder eventually relented and subsequently engaged a scaffolder to allow work to continue.

In court

The tale didn’t end there!

The HSE then went away to build a case against the builder which focussed on the belief that he failed to manage work at height properly due to the lack of edge protection, the builder eventually found himself in court over this.

The twist in the tale

Although the HSE concluded that edge protection was the only option – when the case went to court an expert witness disagreed. He said that if the roof anchor system had been in place, as was agreed with the roofer, then it would have reduced the risks associated with working at height to an acceptable level.

The expert also found that the builder had initially considered installing edge protection but ruled it out as numerous problems had been identified including the shape of the building, and there being a busy walkway below.

Therefore the expert witness was of the opinion that the builder had complied with the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The builder was subsequently found not guilty of the charges!

This in an interesting case which shows that you don’t have to stop at the top of the hierarchy of controls – and that as long as the risk has been assessed, it is perfectly acceptable to use harnesses systems where it can be demonstrated that you cannot avoid working at height and that it is not reasonably practicable to install edge protection.


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