An Aberdeenshire business was fined for serious safety failings after a man died when he fell more than five metres through a fragile roof. The subsequent investigation pointed out a lack of communication, instruction, training and supervision leading to the fall.
It was heard in court how 57-year-old Latvian national Nikolajs Naumovs had arrived in Scotland only two weeks before his fatal fall. He was brought to the site by his nephew, Nikolajs Cernovs and son Vjaceslavs who were employed by local butchery company Bruce of the Broch 1886 Ltd, which was converting premises in College Bounds, Fraserburgh into residential property.
The two men were under the impression that they could bring additional workers to help undertake the works if required, and that they would be paid by the company for any work they did. Consequently they asked Mr Naumovs and his other son Juris.
The evening prior to the incident the company’s managing director had visited the property to plan the next day’s work with Mr Cernovs and Vjaceslavs. Neither of the men had a thorough grasp of the English language. They formed the impression that they were to start removing the roof the following morning in his absence.
Peterhead Sheriff Court was told on 18 February that on 21 August 2009 Mr Naumovs was working with his nephew to remove the asbestos cement sheets from the roof. They had reached the roof using a telehandler, and, while the basket was on the ground being unloaded, the two were sitting near the apex of the roof. Suddenly and without warning, the roof collapsed beneath them.
His nephew managed to grab something and was left hanging from a wall but Mr Naumovs fell five and a half metres to the concrete floor below and died at the scene from head injuries.
The following investigation concluded that the circumstances leading up to the fatal incident showed poor communication, a lack of instruction and supervision, the use of equipment which was not suitable for the task, and the work being carried out in a manifestly unsafe manner.
Although the men should never have been on the roof itself at all, as the telehandler being used was not suitable for this work activity, the company would have been able to intervene to stop the roofing work had there been more effective and regular supervision.
Bruce of the Broch 1886 Ltd, of Broad Street, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, was fined £80,000, reduced to £60,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Following the case, HSE principal inspector Niall Miller said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided had the work been planned properly and carried out with the correct equipment.
“This type of work should ideally be undertaken without the need to directly access the roof, for example by using a Mobile Elevated Working Platform, or, if that is not possible, with safety measures to minimise the risk of falling such as crawling boards, fall arrest harnesses or netting.
“In addition, an employer needs to arrange suitable training and instruction to ensure that persons working there clearly understand not only what they are expected to do but also how they are expected to do it in order to ensure a safe system of work will be followed.
“In this case the difficulties arising from the language barrier resulted in fatal consequences.”
The risks associated with work at height, and fragile roofs in particular, are very well known, and HSE has produced substantial amounts of free advice to assist duty holders to comply with the relevant legislative and regulatory requirements.
Falls from height continue to be the most common cause of fatality to workers. In the year 2013/2014 they accounted for 29 per cent of deaths reported to HSE, meaning that 19 workers lost their lives after a fall that year.