A West Midlands contractor has been fined after a worker fell and slid seven metres into a sewage well on a housing job in Halesowen.
The 34-year-old from Walsall, who has asked not to be named, was clearing a blockage for Tardis Environmental UK Ltd at a partially completed housing development when the incident occurred on 26 August last year.
A pump at the bottom of the sewage well had stopped working because it had become blocked with “rag” (bulky waste material like nappies).
To remove the waste the employee used a road tanker with pump and hose attachments. He opened a grid at the top of the well and stood over it to support and manipulate the hose.
As he did the hose kicked back and hit him, causing him to lose balance and fall into the chamber.
He managed to grab the hose as he fell and slid down it into the waste at the bottom where he stood disorientated for around twenty minutes before he realised he had his mobile phone with him and was able to call for help.
He ingested raw sewage, sustained friction burns to his arms, and bruised his elbows, knees and head in the fall. He was off work for a number of days.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the Tardis employee had been trained in the use of the pumping equipment but had not received any instruction or training in how to empty deep, below-ground sewage wells with specific regard to the risks involved with working at height.
Tardis Environmental UK Ltd of Bloxwich pleaded guilty to breaching safety regulations at Dudley Magistrates’ Court and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs.
After the hearing HSE inspector Anthony Woodward said: “The incident was entirely preventable.”
“The nature of the work meant the worker was right next to, and leaning over, the deep well. Although he was working at ground level the depth of the pit meant he was working at height so reasonable precautions to prevent a fall should have been provided by the company, such as a worker’s restraint or harness.
“He was lucky to escape serious injury or further harm. If he had not have grabbed onto the hose to slow his fall, he might even have been killed. It was an extremely unpleasant experience that he should have been protected from.”
Source: Construction Enquirer
LST Comment: A simple risk assessment to consider the hazards involved in such work would have identified the high probability of a fall, and as such, appropriate control measures should have been easy to identify.
As mentioned by the HSE inspector, a harness and a fall restraint lanyard, anchored to his tanker would have sufficed.
Even though the company failed to conduct a risk assessment, and to control the risks, had the employee been taught the importance of conducting a site specific risk assessment, common sense would have identified the need for some sort of fall prevention.
We suppose the message here is to analyse all hazards involved in the day to day operations of your company’s work, then develop and agree appropriate methods which are subject to suitable and sufficient risk assessment to ensure the method agreed is safe. Communicate these methods and risk controls to the work force, whilst ensuring that the workforce understand the importance of conducting site specific risk assessments (the hazards on site at the time of conducting the work), as after all they too have a duty to look after themselves. Enabling this basic skill of risk assessment to be conducted by all levels within a company and empowering those who are actually in charge of the work, can prove fruitful and prevent the majority of incidents and accidents.