A construction company has been fined £160,000 after a 12 year old boy was able to climb a ladder accessing scaffolding at a site in south Wales before falling 10m, sustaining life-changing injuries.
The ladder providing access to the scaffold at Southville Flats, St David’s Road, Cwmbran, was fitted with a ladder guard – a metal plate that can be padlocked in place across the rungs of a ladder.
However, the guard did not completely cover the rungs of the ladder, allowing footholds used by two boys when they accessed the site on 6 May 2017.
According to the HSE, the injured boy climbed the unguarded ladder, went up to the top platform of the scaffold, then climbed another ladder to a height of approximately 10 m.
This second ladder slipped, causing the boy to lose balance and fall to the ground. His injuries, including damage to his back, have required multiple operations and left the boy only able to walk short distances as he is unstable on his feet.
The HSE investigation found that security arrangements for preventing access to the scaffolding, especially by children from a nearby school, were inadequate.
The HSE barrister told the court that the ladder guard was inadequate, saying: “Ultimately, the removal of ground floor ladders at the end of each day would have removed the risk altogether.”
For the defence, it was reported that the Company took health and safety seriously and had no previous convictions. Warning signs had been placed around the scaffolding, and that “the company’s original intention was to remove ladders altogether”. However, the Company had been informed that removal of the ladders would invalidate the scaffolding tag, a system that indicates that the scaffolding has been inspected by a “competent person” and is safe to use under the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The Company also said that the inadequate ladder guards had been provided by the contractor.
The Company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and were fined £160,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £22,310.
A HSE inspector said: “The death or injury of a child is particularly tragic and a lot of thought must go into securing construction sites. Children do not perceive danger as adults do. The potential for unauthorised access to construction sites must be carefully risk assessed and effective controls put in place. This incident could have been prevented by removal of the ladder completely or installing an appropriately sized ladder guard to cover the full width of the rungs.”
The National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), a trade association that audits its members, has produced guidance for scaffolding firms and their clients on providing safe means of access to scaffold working platforms under the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
SG25:14 Access and Egress from Scaffolds via Ladders and Stair Towers, says that it is the responsibility of the client to prevent unauthorised access to the scaffold structure at all times.
Contractors acting as clients should therefore give clear instruction the scaffolding contractor at tender stage on any measures to be supplied to prevent unauthorised access.
While the guidance notes that a ladder guard can be used to prevent unauthorised access, the NASC recommends “that ladders for the first lift are removed when not in use and kept in a secure storage area”.
A spokesman for NASC declined to comment on the advice the Company claimed to have been given by its subcontractor.