Justin Tyas examines a case in which a contractor’s employee died after driving a specialist vehicle into an unprotected recess in a factory floor.

The operative was working for one of two specialist contractors on the construction of a food processing plant in the Midlands. When using a scissor lift to install ceiling and wall panels he unwittingly drove into a shallow and uncovered recess. The scissor lift overturned and he was thrown from the vehicle, sustaining serious head injuries. He died in hospital.

The principal contractor admitted breaching regulations 22(1)(a) and 37(6) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM 2007) and, in addition to the guilty fine of £22,500, was ordered to pay costs of £12,774. The other contractor pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 13(2) and 37(6) of CDM 2007, and was ordered to pay costs of £12,806 in addition to the fine of £22,500.

Mobile elevated working platforms

A scissor lift is one type of mobile elevated working platform (MEWP), which are used extensively in the construction, manufacturing and maintenance industries to provide suitable access for hard-to-reach spaces.

Scissor lifts consist of three main parts: a working platform, scissor arms, and controls. When the scissor arms stretch, the lift moves in the upward direction and when the scissor arms compress, the lift moves downward. Mobile scissor lifts can be moved and repositioned by the operative as required.

Key factors contributing to MEWP operatives being crushed and trapped within platforms, or thrown from or crushed by overturned platforms, are well known, and include:

  • operative error when using the controls

  • failure to observe hazards in the surrounding environment

  • operative leaning over the side rail of the platform while manoeuvring

  • poor ground conditions

  • poor MEWP condition/maintenance

  • lack of competence

  • lone working.

Statutory requirements

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 require an assessment to be undertaken before starting any work at height. If the assessment determines that the work can be carried out in a way that avoids working at height, then working at height must be avoided. Unavoidable work at height must be properly planned, and organised by a competent person, making sure that the most suitable work equipment is used by taking into account the nature of the work.

When choosing the most suitable work equipment, employers must follow the fall protection hierarchy. This states the order in which protective measures should be taken to mitigate the risks where work at height cannot be avoided. Duty holders must:

  • avoid work at height where they can

  • use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls if they cannot avoid working at height

  • where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require the risks from using equipment to be prevented and controlled, including minimising the overturning risks of mobile work equipment. This is particularly significant when considering the ground conditions where MEWPs are used.

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 require that equipment for lifting people should be designed to a recognised standard and thoroughly examined at regular intervals.

The CDM 2007 Regulations focus on the effective planning and management of construction projects from design onwards, and apply to all construction projects where people are at work. There are additional duties under CDM 2007 for notifiable construction projects lasting more than 30 days or involving more than 500 person days of construction.

Duty holders under CDM 2007 are as follows.

  • Clients — anyone having construction work carried out as part of their business.

  • CDM co-ordinators — for notifiable construction works, the client must appoint a competent CDM co-ordinator as early as possible. The CDM co-ordinator should play a critical role in effective planning and health and safety management of the project, and must be appointed before detailed design work begins.

  • Principal contractors — clients must appoint one competent, adequately resourced principal contractor to plan, manage and monitor notifiable construction work. The principal contractor must be appointed before construction work starts and as soon as the client knows enough about the project to make a suitable appointment.

  • Contractors — must be competent for the work they undertake, and co-operate with each other and the principal contractor to ensure their work activities are co-ordinated.

  • Designers — those who prepare designs, specifications, etc, including architects, surveyors and engineers.

  • Workers — anyone carrying out work during construction.

Breaches in this accident

The principal contractor admitted to breaching regulations 21(1)a and 37(6) of CDM 2007, while the other contractor pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 13(2) and 37(6) of the regulations.

Regulation 13(2) of CDM 2007 states:

"Every contractor shall plan, manage and monitor construction work carried out by him or under his control in a way which ensures that, so far as is reasonably practicable, it is carried out without risks to health and safety."

Regulation 22(1)(a) states:

"The principal contractor for a project shall—

(a) plan, manage and monitor the construction phase in a way which ensures that, so far as is reasonably practicable, it is carried out without risks to health or safety, including facilitating—

  1. co-operation and co-ordination between persons concerned in the project in pursuance of regulations 5 and 6, and co-operation and co-ordination between persons concerned in the project in pursuance of regulations 5 and 6, and

  2. the application of the general principles of prevention in pursuance of regulation 7."

Regulation 37(6) states:

"Suitable and sufficient measures shall be taken so as to prevent any vehicle from falling into any excavation or pit, or into water, or overrunning the edge of any embankment or earthwork."

Failings

The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation into this fatal accident identified several significant failings.

  • Effective measures were not taken to eliminate what was an obvious hazard: the shallow uncovered recess, which caused the scissor lift to overturn, throwing out the operative.

  • Both the principal contractor and the other contractor involved in this accident failed in their duty to plan, manage and monitor the work being carried out under their control.

  • The principal contractor also failed to effectively plan, manage and monitor the overall construction phase of the project.

Lessons learned

MEWPs are intended to be used on level and hard ground surfaces that are stable and will not compress under the weight of the machine. This is particularly relevant to incidents that have involved MEWPs overturning, where the platform can be caused to move unexpectedly as the result of a wheel dropping down. MEWPs are increasingly being used as temporary working platforms to provide a safe place of work at height. However, it is important for those responsible for selecting and managing work on site involving MEWPs to understand the risks associated with their use and take adequate precautions to eliminate or control those risks.

Planning is crucial, and managing the risks must include the ground as well as other environmental conditions in relation to positioning before and during work. This was an entirely preventable fatal accident that could have been avoided by taking simple precautions, such as covering the recess with a suitable metal plate or cordoning off the area to prevent access.

This accident also demonstrates the need for effective planning, managing and monitoring of construction works by all those working on site, as well as co-ordination and co-operation by contractors during works. Effective communication of work involving MEWPs (and all construction activities) should be undertaken before works commence, and should be reviewed to allow for any changes in circumstances, such as variations in ground conditions, site access, tasks carried out, etc. Deviations from any plan should be authorised by the competent person and effectively communicated before changes are made.

Last reviewed 26 June 2013