The 46-year-old worker, from Tunbridge Wells, who does not wish to be named, fell through the fragile roof of a food packaging firm’s premises in Bridge after losing his balance on the working platform he was using.
He landed on the cold store roof nearly 2m below and suffered a broken rib and fractured left wrist, but has since recovered and returned to work.
The incident, on 4 October 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which prosecuted Ramsgate-based firms WW Martin Ltd and Brandclad Ltd.
Canterbury Magistrates were told that the food firm had used WW Martin for several years to undertake building work at their site so had appointed it to remedy leaks in the premises. WW Martin in turn hired specialist roofing firm Brandclad to carry out the work.
Before the repairs started, WW Martin was sent a risk assessment and a planned method of work by Brandclad highlighting the danger of the fragile roof and stating that platforms with handrails would be used, along with harnesses for workers.
However, HSE found that from the start of work on 22 September until a month later when the work finished, the platforms for the roofers were left open and unprotected.
Even when the Brandclad employee fell and work was suspended for 10 days to review what had happened, the only change made was to provide platforms that sat flatter and more evenly in the troughs of roof sheets. The safety measures that had been promised – handrails and harnesses – were never used by Brandclad. WW Martin, which was responsible for monitoring the work, failed to take any action.
Magistrates heard that HSE found both WW Martin and Brandclad had considered putting fall prevention measures inside the roof void but had decided against it because of doubts about the structural strength of the cold store roof.
WW Martin Ltd, Dane Park Road, Ramsgate, and Brandclad Ltd, Orchard Business Centre, North Farm Road, Tunbridge Wells, each admitted one breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Brandclad, stated by the court to be 60% culpable, was fined £7,000 with £3,588 in costs. WW Martin was fined a higher amount of £10,000 owing to its stronger financial position despite being 40% culpable, also with £3,588 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said: “This was a completely avoidable incident. The dangers of working on fragile roofs are very well- known in the industry. Such work should never be undertaken without careful planning and making sure the right type of fall prevention and mitigation measures are in place.
“It is incredible the work was carried out despite the companies’ misgivings about the strength of the internal cold store roof. Had that given way when the worker fell on to it then HSE would likely have been investigating a death.
“Even after the incident, the job was resumed without any proper improvements made to the working methods. There should be no shortcuts when working on fragile surfaces – no matter how short the duration of a job is.”