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MPs begin inquiry into effectiveness of working at height rules

Out-Law News | 23 Jan 2018 | 10:17 am | 2 min. read

Construction firms and trade bodies have been urged to contribute to a new inquiry into best practice and solutions for tackling serious injury and fatalities for working at height.

An all-party parliamentary group (APPG) is seeking industry responses on a number of questions around working at height. It is being supported in its work by two trade bodies: the Prefabricated Access Suppliers' and Manufacturers' Association (PASMA), an international trade body representing those working with mobile access towers; and the Access Industry Forum (AIF), which works with 11 member organisations including PASMA.

The APPG, which is being chaired by MP Alison Thewliss, will produce a report and recommendations on how the frequency of serious injuries and fatalities among those working at height can be reduced, and whether the existing Work at Height Regulations sufficiently protect workers. Although fatal injuries in the workplace are declining, 18% of those who died at work in 2016/17 were killed as a result of falls from height, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics.

Health and safety law expert Alex Hudson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the known risks associated with working at height meant that firms faced serious consequences for breaches of the relevant regulations, regardless of whether those breaches led to injuries or deaths.

"While working at height may be a bigger concern for some sectors than others – for example, falls from height are the most common cause of fatal injuries in the construction and manufacturing industries – all sectors will be able to appreciate that even one fatal incident is one too many," he said.

"Due to the known dangers associated with working at height, the seriousness of harm risked by health and safety breaches will frequently fall into the highest category available under the Sentencing Guidelines. This can mean significant fines for companies convicted of offences relating to work at height. Health and safety offences are also only concerned with failures to manage risks to health and safety and do not require proof that the offence caused any actual harm: the offence is in creating a risk of harm. Therefore, companies may still be prosecuted even where no injury has occurred," he said.

Under the Sentencing Guidelines, a matrix is used to determine fines for companies convicted of health and safety offences based on the offender's turnover, culpability and the level of harm associated with the offending, with risk of death or serious injury classed as 'category A' harm.

In 2016/17, 79 firms and individuals were prosecuted under the 2005 Work at Height Regulations, with an average fine of over £80,000 per conviction, Hudson said. Five individuals also received immediate custodial sentences during the same period. A number of recent corporate manslaughter prosecutions have also  involved fatal falls from height, Hudson said.

The APPG has set out nine questions on which it would like input from the industry and trade bodies with which to inform its report. It has asked for submissions on the main reasons for falls and falling objects leading to injury; examples of good practice; the role to be played by customers and end users in ensuring safe work at height; and whether there are any specific measures which are not currently required by law that could reduce injuries and fatalities related to work at height.

The group is also keen to hear respondents' views of the effectiveness of the existing regulations, and whether enhanced reporting of falls from height could increase understanding of the causes and help reduce instances of falls from height. It has also requested "innovative" suggestions to help reduce falls from height and falling objects, particularly ideas incorporating digital technology. Responses should be submitted by 2 March 2018.