Suspended Sentence for Roof Light Fatality

The lastest prosecution of a company, its director, and a self-employed contractor after a man was fatally injured by falling through a roof light, is the perfect example of why you should only employ competent people to work at height.

The court heard that the victim was cleaning roof lights with his self-employed contractor friend, when he fell about 7m through a roof light to the work-shop floor underneath and subsequently died.  Both the roof and the roof lights were not able to support the weight of a person.

Roof lights on industrial roofs

The HSE investigation found that the friend was not a roofer and mainly worked as a gardener, so he didn't have the necessary knowledge or competence to carry out the work, and as a result did not take any  precautions to prevent a fall through the roof, or off its edge.

It was also found that the company which managed the industrial property failed to have adequate systems in place to ensure a competent roofer was appointed.  Both the company and its director did not understand the law relating to work on fragile roofs, which meant they failed to properly plan and supervise the work.

As a result the company was fined £20,000 with costs for breaching Regulation 4(1) and Regulation 5 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.  Its director pleaded guilty to breaching two counts of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was sentenced to four months imprisonment on each count, suspended for 12 months.

The self-employed contractor friend, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs.

Following the hearing the HSE inspector said: “This is an incredibly sad case all round. Each defendant knew that the roof was fragile and each accepted unsafe working practices.”

He went on to say that the victim was only on the roof in order to help out his best friend and that if the property management company and its director had asked questions about the friend’s experience and knowledge of roof work standards, they would not have employed him.  The director should have recognised he was not competent.  If these simple steps had been taken, the victim “would not have been on the roof and would not have died in the way he did.”

Duty of Care

Property managing agents have a duty to ensure those accessing the roofs of any property they manage are safe and competent.  Working near fragile rooflights and skylights can be dangerous, and the HSE estimates that there are around 9 deaths each year as a result of falls through a fragile roof or roof light, but these falls are avoidable. 

Careful planning, training, supervision and taking a proactive approach to protect those working on the roof by verifying competency, will help to ensure work can be carried out safely. And remember, if you're ever unsure about how to work safely at height, or on the competency of anyone you're employing to work at height, always seek professional advice.


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