Falls in the workplace have a huge impact on people’s lives and businesses.
The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have revealed that the highest cause of workplace deaths continues to be employees falling from height which claimed the lives of 35 people in Great Britain in 2020-2021.
During the same time period, more than 40 per cent of non-fatal injuries at work were also caused by a combination of slips, trips and falls.
The worst part about this is the impact that falls in the workplace have on the lives of those who have been injured and their families.
However, falls in the workplace can also result in huge financial costs for businesses and company owners and managers.
What is the cost to businesses of falls in the workplace?
According to the HSE, in the first eight months of last year alone, it successfully prosecuted nearly 30 organisations for incidents involving falls.
Altogether the firms were fined more than £1.5million and ordered to pay nearly £220,000 in costs. The highest individual fine was for more than £500,000 – in general most fines tend to be at least in the tens of thousands of pounds.
What many people don’t always appreciate is that the HSE does not just prosecute companies for health and safety breaches – where it believes it has a case it will also prosecute individuals.
Indeed, there were several cases last year where company directors were given suspended prison sentences and, or ordered to carry out hundreds of hours of unpaid work.
One of the more recent cases took place last month and resulted in the director of an air conditioning company being sentenced after a worker sustained a broken back when he fell five metres to the ground.
Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard how, on 24 October 2019, Coolzone Air Conditioning Limited were contracted to replace an air conditioning unit at Eastman House, Radford Cres, Billericay.
As part of the works, an employee, who had never worked on a roof before, was required to go onto the roof to replace the external unit of an air conditioner. After accessing the roof via a man cage, the worker fell through a rooflight to the warehouse floor five metres below.
The employee sustained a broken back and had still not returned to work when the case was heard last month.
An investigation by the HSE found the company director, Daniel Biagioni, attended the site a month prior to the incident and as part of his risk assessment, identified that the rooflights on the warehouse roof presented a fall risk.
However, Mr Biagioni failed to implement the controls he identified in his risk assessment and sent the inexperienced apprentice onto the roof unsupervised.
Daniel Biagioni of Barrow Chase, Chelmsford, Essex, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and received a six-month custodial sentence suspended for 12 months.
As part of his sentence, he was required to complete 150 hours of unpaid work. Mr Biagioni was also ordered to pay costs of £4,886 and a victim surcharge.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David, Tonge said: “Roof work is a high-risk activity and duty holders must ensure they put measures in place to protect against this risk.
“Falls from height often result in life-changing or fatal injuries. In most cases, these incidents are needless and could be prevented by properly planning the work to ensure that effective preventative and protective measures are in place.”
How can we prevent falls in the workplace?
There is a wealth of information available to organisations which want to protect their employees from the risk of falls in the workplace.
The HSE has literally pages and pages on its website filled with advice on measures which can be implemented to prevent these types of incidents from happening.
For example, a whole section is dedicated to ways in which the construction industry can minimise the risks because thousands of construction workers are injured each year at work because of a slip, trip or fall.
However, we realise that for some employers the thought of having to trawl through the reams of health and safety advice out there can be completely overwhelming.
In other cases we know that company bosses and managers are aware of their health and safety requirements but have so much to do in their day-to-day roles that they don’t have the capacity to meet their legal responsibilities when it comes to health and safety.
Most people would feel sorry for bosses and managers in either of these two situations. Unfortunately, that won’t help them if a colleague falls in the workplace and is hurt and it won’t provide them with any kind of defence when the HSE comes to call.
Where can I go for help?
So, if you know your workplace is having a hard time managing its health and safety start asking questions about what can be done to improve things.
If you’re not sure where to start or you know you haven’t got the time or resources to hire a full-time member of staff to manage your health and safety needs, speak to us.
Our highly qualified health and safety consultants help organisations of all sizes and from all industries to identify and solve all of their health and safety issues.
We will even act as a Retained Health and Safety Consultant to give firms peace of mind that they are keeping their staff safe and won’t be prosecuted for health and safety failings.