Firm is fined over roof fall

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A COMPANY has been ordered to pay more than £7,500 in fines and costs after a worker fell 12ft through a barn roof and broke a bone in his back.

Hartlepool man Ross Moorhead was one of three employees cleaning debris from the roof of a barn at Tees Valley Compost Cleaning Services, in Wingate, when he stepped off a board he was working on before crashing through the fragile sheet cement roof onto an agricultural mower below.

The 25-year-old fractured his coccyx and was off work for two weeks.

But Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutors said similar falls have been fatal.

Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard how Andrew Thompson, the company’s director, failed to ensure a number of safety measures were in place that could have prevented the accident.

These included only providing narrow boards for the staff to work from, which prosecutor Sally Brecken said were an unsuitable platform, not providing a safety net below the roof and failing to provide handrails.

Mrs Brecken said: “The main aggravating factor is this breach resulted in an injury, however similar falls have resulted in fatalities.”

After the hearing, she added: “The worker is lucky to be alive because falls from such a height can often be fatal. He did however suffer very serious injuries in this incident, which would not have happened if adequate safeguards had been in place.

“The company did very little to prevent falls from the roof or to reduce the risk of serious injury in the event of a fall.

“Clear guidance on working at height is available from HSE and it is regrettable that the company failed to follow this.”

Thompson, 47, of Embleton Hall Farm, Wingate, where the business is based, admitted failing to take suitable measures to prevent injury under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The company, which was set up in 2010, also admitted a similar charge involving contravening working at height regulations.

Both Thompson and the company were fined £2,000 each. The company was also ordered to pay £3,506.50 in investigation and court costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge.

Latest figures released by the HSE reveal that an average of 18 people die as a result of a fall in a workplace in Great Britain annually and almost 4,000 suffered a major injury.

Neil Taylor, mitigating, said Thompson is “bitterly disappointed to find himself in this position” and added: “My client has always accepted his risk assessment fell short of requirements.

“He gave him the boards and the boards were successful until at the end of the day, when Ross Moorhead accepts that without thinking he stepped off the board and he fell.”

Mr Taylor said Mr Moorhead was off work for “a day and a bit” before returning, but because of the pain he was off work for two weeks on full pay.

He said Thompson duly informed the HSE of the incident and co-operated fully.

“He has never tried to deny responsibily,” added Mr Taylor. “My client said lessons have clearly been learned.”

He added that no further incidents have happened at the premises since the accident, on July 25, 2011 and said all employees have been trained, the correct risk assessments are in place and a canopy has been bought to prevent debris from the composting from getting onto the roof.

“Steps have been taken to remedy any deficiency in his working practices – it’s right to tell you this can never happen again.”