A solar panel installation business has been criticised for not adhering to safety regulations, leading to a 20-year-old employee suffering serious injuries in a fall from height accident at work.
Potentially Fatal Accident
The worker, who is from Woolston, near Warrington, was working on a barn in Northamptonshire while installing solar panels for Alternative Energy Installations Limited, which has since gone into liquidation.
In a hearing at Northampton Crown Court, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Peter Snelgrove said the workplace accident could conceivably have proven fatal to the young man.
Although he survived the fall from height accident, he has not been able to return to work since his fall and suffers from depression and near-constant pain, having broken his back.
Soft floor material in the barn, used for horse training, helped to break his fall in the accident. Nevertheless, he spent four weeks in hospital following the occurrence and it has had a significant impact on his life to date.
If safety precautions had been taken he would have been considerably safer when carrying out the installation.
HSE Prohibition Notice
After the HSE served a Prohibition Notice ordering urgent safety improvements in the aftermath of the fall, crawling boards and safety netting were subsequently used to continue the work more securely.
Given how easy the fix was, the director's unwillingness to make it initially looks even more damning, said Mr Snelgrove.
Ian Black, of Denbigh in Wales, was fined £7,300 and ordered to pay £6,700 in costs.
Alternative Energy Installations Limited, registered with Hodgsons Accountants of Park Road in Cheshire, was charged with £27,000 in costs and £30,000 in fines.
"This fall accident could have been fatal and was entirely and easily preventable. As it is, the incident has dramatically affected a young man, starting out in life, and he has not worked again since.
"He has been affected personally, emotionally and physically and has had to change his whole way of life. He will more than likely need to retrain and his loss of self-confidence has had a drastic effect on his social life," declared Mr Snelgrove.
Although the director Mr Black was aware of the fragility of the roof lights, he failed to put any preventative measures in place.
This was despite one worker asking if they would be given safety harnesses, a request that was met with laughter.
"Alternative Energy Installations Limited should have ensured that the work at height was properly planned and that workers had the right protective equipment and had been trained in its use," the HSE inspector concluded.
Fall from Height Accidents
Carrying out installations or other tasks from height is one of the most common causes of accidents in the UK, both among homeowners and private contractors or builders.
According to the HSE, more than 6,300 employees suffered major injuries after falling from height at work last year.
Working on roofs accounts for almost a quarter of all workers who are killed in fall from height accidents, with an over-reliance on the support of fragile material such as skylights the biggest single cause of such occurrences.
Employers should take the regulator's advice if they wish to avoid expensive mishaps among their workers.
By Francesca Whitney