A workplace incident


This post has been parked for a few years now, and since the event is long enough passed and the people I did the work for wouldn’t have me back I think it’s time to share this.

The story takes place on a large house being renovated. It was the second of four houses to be done on this farm and I was booked to install intruder alarms in all four. The project involved a lot of workers and was over a few months so it was notifiable to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

Towards the end of the project I was installing the intruder alarm sensors at the same time as the wooden stairs were being installed. Previously first floor access had been via a heavy duty ladder with adjacent tool hoist, so having stairs was going to make works so much quicker.

The stairs guys finished and left site and I started using the admittedly very well wrapped and protected stairs when the future home owner came in and told me to “use the f**king ladder” and “don’t dare use the stairs”.

I quietly acknowledged and then left site that evening. Only to then file a report on the HSE reporting site.

The next day I moved onto my next job. I knew I’d probably lose a day’s money but I had to report them.

Well sure enough, that very same day HSE were crawling all over the site and they put prohibition notices on the site until a number of health and safety defects were rectified.

You see, in Health & Safety Risk Assessment we use the phrase ERIC PD, which determines the level of risk mitigation. You should always start at the first letter, and if you can satisfy the risk with the earlier letter you must. ERIC PD means the following:

  • First try and ELIMINATE the risk, and if you can’t do this then
  • Second try and REDUCE the risk. If this still can’t be done then your next step is
  • Third you must ISOLATE the risk and stop people being exposed to it. If you still can’t do this then the next step is
  • Fourth you have to CONTROL the risk. This is the least acceptable standard method. Once we go beyond these it gets more difficult.
  • Fifth is you have to provide and wear PPE (personal protective equipment) to mitigate the risk of injury.
  • Finally, if none of the above address the issue then you just use DISCIPLINE, by education, and the use of prohibition notices to prevent unauthorised entry to the area.

What the homeowner didn’t realise was that by demanding I use a ladder and not the stairs he was introducing an unnecessary risk of a fall. Where I was working to ELIMINATE or REDUCE the risk by sending my tools up on the hoist, but using the stairs to avoid the ladder; he was expecting us to take an unnecessary risk – which is a clear breach of health and safety law.

About 7 months after my report, the homeowner – who had put themselves down as the primary contractor – was fined £10,000 for multiple breaches of health and safety law including, but not limited to:

  • Failing to provide adequate wellbeing facilities (we had to take our own water in, and the toilet didn’t provide adequate privacy, nor did it have hand washing facilities)
  • Failing to provide acceptable means of transfer between levels.
  • Failing to register a major scope project.
  • Failing to provide fire protection and emergency assembly points.

And I still got my invoice paid.