Aircraft firm gets it wrong with work at height

A Hampshire-based aircraft maintenance company has been sentenced for safety failures after three workers were injured in separate falls at its airfield in Lasham – two in the same month.

The first incident at ATC (Lasham) Ltd, which has an international client base, saw an employee fall five metres from an aircraft door to the runway tarmac while repairing a faulty door. His injuries were at first thought to be life-threatening.

Less than three weeks later, a contractor, broke a knee after falling three metres when a weld gave way on a scissor lift. Finally another employee fell from an aircraft stand that had no guardrail between the aircraft and the stand steps. He fractured a thumb in three places.

The incidents, on 9 and 27 July, and 30 November 2011 respectively, were investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted ATC (Lasham) Ltd for three safety breaches at Salisbury Crown Court.

The court was told the first worker, then 60, from Alton in Hampshire, had been helping to fix an aircraft door fault that had been detected during crew safety checks. During the repair, the door was opened by the worker and it flew out under pressure.  As he was holding onto the door, he was pulled out of the plane and plunged five metres to the ground as there were no safeguards in place to prevent him falling.

He suffered a broken right thigh and ankle and needed rods and pins inserting to help him recover. He has since been able to return to work.

Later the same month, a contractor, 48, from Wootton Bassett, Swindon, fell as he attempted to climb down from inside a Boeing 757 wing fuel tank. He was standing on a scissor lift when a weld in the lift gave way, sending him falling to the ground below.

The final of the injured three, an employee then aged 67, from Ascot, Berkshire, sustained a multiple fracture to his thumb as he fell from an unprotected part of an aircraft platform.

The court heard HSE identified that in all three incidents ATC had failed to provide safe plant and a safe system of work for the three men. There was a lack of safe procedures for working at height, provision of unsuitable and unmaintained equipment, and general poor management.

After the incidents, HSE had served a number of prohibition notices halting certain areas of work and improvement notices requiring better working practices.

ATC (Lasham) Ltd, of Lasham Airfield, Lasham, Hampshire, was fined a total of £35,000 and ordered to pay £32,430 in costs after admitting three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kelly Nichols said:

“Three workers have suffered painful injuries owing to inadequate safe systems of work employed by ATC (Lasham) – which is particularly disappointing given it is a major company working in a particularly safety-critical sector.

“The company’s management of health and safety was extremely poor in many areas but particularly in their approach to working at height.  Three falls occurred in a relatively short period and these could have resulted in even more serious injuries.

“Working at height needs careful planning and organisation, and part of that is selecting and using the right type of equipment, which is properly maintained and safe.”

Notes to Editors:

Photo shows the plane and the door above the forklift where the first fall took place.

1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.

2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

3. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”


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