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Tue March 02 2021

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Solar firm fined for taking no rooflight precautions

4 Jun 14 A 54-year-old construction worker suffered life-changing injuries when he plunged nearly seven metres through a rooflight while installing solar power racking, a Bradford court has heard.

Peter Bettison fell through a rooflight in a farm building while installing solar power
Peter Bettison fell through a rooflight in a farm building while installing solar power

Peter Bettison, from Leeds, sustained multiple injuries and was in hospital for three weeks. As well as a punctured lung and fractured skull, he suffered a head wound needing 13 staples, a broken collar bone, broken ribs along his left side, a fracture to his left hand, a broken left pelvis and chipped bones in his spine and hip.

The fall through the rooflight, which lacked any protection, led to Mr Bettison’s employer, Duncan Plumbing, Heating & Electrics Ltd, being prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for safety failings.

Bradford Magistrates heard yesterday (3rd June) that Mr Bettison and another employee were installing the solar panel racks on a farm building roof in Ilkley on 28th November 2011.

Having put several racks in place, Mr Bettison stood up and stepped on one of the rooflights. It instantly gave way, sending him to the concrete floor below.

The HSE investigation found that Duncan Plumbing, Heating & Electrics Ltd had carried out two site surveys in advance of the work and made note of the presence of rooflights for the design team. However, the firm then failed to take any action to protect either the workers from falls or the rooflights themselves.

HSE said that a sign on the side of the barn warning of a fragile roof was also apparently disregarded.

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Duncan Plumbing, Heating & Electrics Ltd., of Rudgate Business Park, Tockwith, York, was fined the maximum magistrates were able to impose – £20,000 – and ordered to pay £3,408 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Sarah Lee said: “Mr Bettison suffered devastating injuries in this fall and could so easily have been killed. His fall may have been broken by hitting the hay bales and, if so they probably saved his life.

“The overall system of work employed by Duncan Heating, Plumbing & Electrics Ltd was inherently unsafe. They did not recognise or properly identify the dangers faced by their employees so safety measures were totally neglected.

“It is astonishing that the company, having got the information about rooflights at their fingertips, subsequently failed to do anything about it. Had they been protected from above or netted from below, this incident could have been avoided.

 “Falling from height is still the biggest killer in the construction industry and also leads to many injuries. The risks are also well-known in the trade so there is no excuse for putting workers at unnecessary risk.”

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