McDermott Brothers Contactors Ltd. (MBCL), a London-based construction company, was fined £150,000 (U.S. $281,000) at Southwark Crown Court following an investigation by the U.K.'s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the death of carpenter Vincent Dooley at a building site on Dec. 4, 2000.
Dooley was working for MBCL on the 14th floor of the 280 Bishopsgate development just outside the city of London. He was working near a hole that had been cut into the floor when he fell through the hole and landed approximately 13 feet on the floor below. He suffered severe head injuries and died later that day.
The court found that MBCL had failed in its duty of care toward Dooley by exposing him to risks to his safety. At the time of the incident, no fall protection measures, such as a railing around the hole, were in place to prevent Dooley's fall. However, the company had a general policy that indicated safety harnesses should be worn in such situations.
"This case provides some very valuable lessons about working at heights, which, if put into practice, should help to prevent this kind of incident from occurring," said HSE investigating inspector Neil Stephens, noting that the hearing for the case was close to the anniversary of Dooley's death. "First, those who are responsible for planning work should carefully assess the work and decide what safety measures are appropriate. There is a hierarchy of control measures for working at height and the use of personal fall arrest equipment."
He noted that harnesses are at the bottom of the hierarchy. "Harnesses are almost always a last resort measure and properly constructed working platforms and/or guardrails are nearly always preferable," Stephens said.
"Secondly," he added, "principal contractors should always look critically at any method statement that specifies the use of harnesses to check whether this is the safest option. Where, ultimately, harnesses are chosen, then there should be a detailed method statement and a high degree of supervision to make sure it is followed."
All workers who use harnesses need proper training, he noted, which should include how to inspect and wear the harness, how it should be anchored and the limitations of the harness.
"Sensible health and safety is about managing risks; working at height is a well-known hazard, and not just in construction," Stephens said.