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5th September 2017

Work at height failure leads to fatality and £130,000 fine

A tragic case involving the death of a worker using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) serves as a reminder to businesses to have rescue arrangements in place for this equipment.

What happened?

Keith Stevens (S) was helping to dismantle temporary roofing at Devonport Naval Base when the accident occurred. He was using a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) on his own, therefore it’s not entirely clear what went wrong. But at some point, his body became trapped between a roof beam and the controls of the MEWP. His colleagues were not familiar with the operation of the controls which caused a delay before they were able to lower the platform to the ground. S had a pre-existing heart condition and this delay was implicated in his death.


On investigating the accident the HSE found that S’s employer Pyeroy Ltd (P) had not properly planned the work. The machine was capable of exceeding the height available in some places but the company’s management had not taken the precautions to prevent entrapment where there was restricted headroom. Furthermore, employees who were not involved in operating the MEWP were not trained to lower it in an emergency.

In court, P pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (1) Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). The company was fined £130,000 and ordered to pay costs of £14,388.

What should have happened?

Under the WAHR and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are required to: (1) assess the risk of work at height; (2) take action to reduce the risk; (3) implement emergency rescue arrangements; and (4) train staff who are expected to operate the equipment and implement the emergency procedures.

Safe Use

In practice, if work at height cannot be avoided, using MEWP is often the next best option. However, the right type of MEWP must be selected having regard to ground conditions, access routes, the reach required, etc.

  • When considering whether it’s safe to use a MEWP on your site, look for overhead hazards as well as ground conditions. Bear in mind that if a basket has to pass through layers of suspended structures, there is an especially high risk.
  • The HSE carried out past research into sustained involuntary operation which can occur if an operator is knocked onto the control panel. It found that secondary guarding might help, but that it could also introduce new dangers of entrapments. Never make modifications unless authorised by the manufacturer.
  • If you need specialist input, e.g. to decide about extra guarding or the suitability of equipment, ask a good supplier or MEWP trainer. They will appreciate both the capability of the machine and the difficulties an operator will need to overcome.
  • When a MEWP is in use there must be staff present that are familiar with the operation of the controls which are present on each machine and accessible from ground level. Plan in periodic practice sessions to use these ground controls so that staff don’t lose these skills after training.


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