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Ladder accidents and falls from heights

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Ladder accidents and falls from heights

Falls from height remain the most likely cause of death in the workplace and one of the main causes of serious injury. By 2006 the problem had become so great, with 46 fatalities and 3350 major injuries in that year alone, that the government introduced new regulations to improve worker safety.

Work at Height Regulations

The Work at Height (amended) Regulations 2007 apply to all work where there is a risk of a person at work falling from a height, not just on construction sites but also in offices shops and other workplaces.

The regulations are widely drawn so that any work at height has to be assessed and if possible avoided; if it cannot be avoided then efforts must be put in place to minimise the risk. These efforts may include the use of safety equipment to prevent a fall or minimise the distance involved, or a proper documented procedure and proper training so that workers understand and can deal with any particular risks from the task they are carrying out. That safety equipment has to be inspected, maintained and repaired and the workers have to be trained in its proper use.

Practical measures may include grab and guard rails, toe holds, harnesses and netting, working platforms and hard hats.

The regulations also cover the use of ladders at work. Ladders are a the cause of many accidents at work, and of the 6000 significant and major accidents reported to the Health & Safety Executive every year over 1000 involve the use of a ladder.

Use of ladders in the work place

Ladders are a popular piece of equipment at work with employers because they are a cheap means of access – they do not cost much and can be used by one person without assistance. This means they can be used in situations where they are not up to the job.

They should only be used for jobs and on sites where an assessment has been carried out to make sure that scaffolding or a mobile platform should not be used instead. They should be ‘footed’ by a second person and safely tied and secured at the top. But these safety measures make them more expensive and less flexible, so workers are often sent out on jobs with just a job sheet and a standard sized ladder.

Unsurprisingly the ladder will sometimes slip away from beneath because it is not secured at the bottom, or it may fall sideways because it was not secured at the top.

Another particular risk involves working on roofs. Sometimes the surface of the roof is fragile and unsafe. There may be a skylight window that it is easy to step through. In these cases the injuries are almost always severe, and can involve head and spinal injuries as well as multiple fractures, but they are also usually preventable: a proper risk assessment will ensure that the strength of the roof is tested and weak areas cordoned off with barriers. Skylights should always have barriers around them which are clearly marked.

Howe we can help you

At Osbornes Solicitors we have dealt with many cases of workers falling from or through the roof of buildings because their employers did not take the elementary steps necessary to make them reasonably safe at work.

In one case, our client, a Lithuanian scaffolding assistant, was required to work on a roof of a building. Ironically he was erecting a safety rail around the edge of the roof, when he stepped onto an unprotected skylight, falling through onto a concrete floor some 10 feet below.

In a similar claim Mr M, a 30 year old labourer, fell through a glass atrium on the roof of the building where he was working, and landed on his feet, sustaining serious (‘trimalleolar’) fractures of the ankle. Because the fractures extended through the joints of the ankle it caused osteoarthritis and M was disabled by pain so that he was unable to work for many months. As the arthritic disease progressed his mobility deteriorated so that after two years he required surgery to fuse the ankle joint.  This improved the pain but did nothing for his mobility. He was then unable to work in heavy manual work that involved standing for long periods on walking along uneven ground, and so he retrained for less physical, but less well paid work.

Mr M was self employed and had a patchy work history so there was a negotiation over his level of earnings and his future earnings differential.

That case settled after court proceedings for £75,000, to reflect the seriousness of the injury and the effect it had in the claimant’s employment prospects.

Recent case studies

1. We acted for Mr M, a Polish scaffolder living in Camden. He was sent on a job where he was required to climb from one platform to another on the side of a building by way of a ladder. The ladder had been put in place by a colleague. It was leaning at an angle into the building but it had not been tied at the top, and so as Mr M climbed up to the top it fell away from the side of the building and he fell two floors to the ground below.

Mr M sustained fractures to both legs, including a pylon fracture (multiple breaks along the shin bones). He required metal plating and whilst the fractures healed he was no longer able to work in that occupation. He recovered six figures in damages and used the money to set up in a new career as a restaurant owner.

2. Mr O was a labourer and handyman. His job involved some painting and decorating and maintenance work onsite for a client. His employer assessed the job and priced it on site, before giving Mr O a job sheet. Mr O had access to the client’s tools and materials and needed to use one of his ladders to access an elevated pedestrian walkway from the ground below. He had nobody to hold the ladder at the bottom, even though the ground surface was smooth, and no means of fixing it at the top.

His employer knew that the job required Mr O to work at height but provided no equipment at all and failed to come up with any safe way of doing the job.

Mr O was working near the top of the ladder when, as he adjusted position slightly, it suddenly slipped away at the bottom and he fell about 8 feet to the ground. He broke his hip and wrist and suffered a lot of soft tissue damage which took many months to heal.

The employer’s insurers defended the claim initially but finally gave in to prevent the case going to court, and they paid over £30,000 to settle the claim for Mr O’s injuries, loss of earnings care and expenses, together with all the legal costs.

If you work or worked in construction and experienced an injury after falling from a ladder or from a height, contact our specialist team of lawyers who can advise you on whether or not you are eligible to make a claim for accident compensation.

Written by Stuart Kightley

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