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Avoidable Accidents and Misleading Health and Safety Notices

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Recent cases from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have focused particular attention on businesses that employ workers exposed to the dangers of working at height. They also draw attention to the fact that accidents can happen anywhere for relatively innocuous reasons if adequate care is not taken.

Meanwhile, although health and safety is a popular whipping post for people complaining about restrictions on their liberty, businesses can’t simply blame HSE for every limitation that gets imposed in a working environment.

Avoidable Accidents and Employees Working at Height

Three recent cases of employees suffering injuries while working at height while carrying out their jobs emphasise how common this danger is despite it being such an obvious one for employers to be wary of.

One case involved a scaffolder who was hit by an unsecured heavy pulley and suffered from a fractured skull and another involved a joiner who fell through a ceiling. An examination of the facts revealed companies failing to implement risk assessments when working at height and employees suffering the consequences.

In both scenarios, the companies failed to check their equipment was adequate for the job and provide safety information to workers about working with the equipment at height.

Another separate incident involved a worker who fell through an inadequate work structure. In that case it was discovered that subcontractor failed to implement proposed safety measures. The contractor also failed to take any action to remedy the problem.

HSE has claimed that if the measures that were required and promised had been implemented, all of the above incidents would probably have been prevented. It is therefore essential that businesses and their employees take adequate care to comply with health and safety regulations on these issues, not just because it is the law, but for workers’ safety and livelihood.

Avoiding the Risks of Injury Whatever the Environment

Health and Safety laws are not just for business employing people in environments with high risks of injury such as at height or in areas where heavy machinery is operating. HSE cases regularly demonstrate that risks of physical injury occur in all sorts of work places, not just the obvious ones such as construction sites.

In a particularly tragic recent case, a care home was order to pay nearly £135,000 in fines and costs after an elderly resident who had dementia, was killed by an unsecured wardrobe in her room. Her condition meant that she was not allowed to open the wardrobe without assistance. When she came to open the locked wardrobe, it fell on her, meaning that she was unable to breathe.

The screws attaching the wardrobe to the wall were found to be inadequate and the maintenance manager had not received appropriate training on how to make repairs to the wardrobe, which would have identified the issues with the screws. If the home had used the right equipment, and provided training on how to fix the wardrobe, the incident would have been prevented.

You Cannot Just Blame Health and Safety

As well as trying to protect people from danger, the HSE is also trying to tackle its image problem, something not helped by the use of misleading health and safety notices in the workplace.

For example, a pub that banned confetti to avoiding cleaning up was castigated by the HSE which claimed that it was wrong to blame the HSE for introducing the ban.

This is an attempt to counter the general feeling among the public that health and safety can be over the top.


The cases that the HSE deals with are a useful reminder to organisations about the importance of risk assessment in the workplace and active management of risk to reduce the potential for harm.

Injured employees, organisations needing specialist advice about their health and safety obligations or those at risk of prosecution should seek specialist legal advice. For more information contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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