Burnley College has been fined £20,000 after an employee was severely injured when he fell three metres while changing an air filter on an extraction system.
The sixth form and further education college was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found it had failed to ensure the work was carried out safely, despite specialising in teaching health and safety courses.
Preston Crown Court heard that the 63-year-old engineering technician from Burnley, who has asked not to be named, had needed to put his left foot on a cabinet and his right foot on the top rung of a stepladder to reach the filter.
As he did this, on 28 May 2013, the stepladder toppled from under him and he fell sideways, hitting a bench on his way down. His back was broken in several places and he also sustained a fractured breastbone.
The employee required morphine for 12 days to manage the pain, was off work for five and a half months, and is likely to need to take pain killers every day for the rest of his life. He can now only walk short distances and has had to give up hobbies such as fell walking and DIY, which he carried out for his 85-year-old mother.
The court was told the extraction system had been installed at short notice after the college secured a new contract to train nearly 300 employees from the aerospace industry on working with sheets of carbon fibre.
The unit was needed to remove the carbon fibre dust generated by drilling and other processes but it was installed above a narrow gap between a cabinet and a fixed workbench. This meant the employee was unable to use the college’s mobile elevated work platform to reach the filter, which needed to be changed regularly.
The HSE investigation found his supervisor had witnessed him removing the filter in exactly the same way just over a week earlier, but had failed to take any action to ensure the work was carried out safely in future.
The college had not given the employee any training on working at height, and had failed to produce a single risk assessment on work at height activities since moving to a new building in 2009.
Burnley College, of Princess Way in Burnley, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £7,600 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 23 October 2014.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Rose Leese-Weller said:
“It’s astonishing that Burnley College failed to ensure basic health and safety systems were in place when it employs lecturers who specialise in this area.
“Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of safety while working at height would have known straddling a cabinet and the top rung of a stepladder was dangerous, but this practice was allowed to continue by the college.
“The extraction system was installed quickly and without thought for the employees who would need to change the filters. The technician therefore had no choice but to reach them in this way.
“If the college had carried out a proper risk assessment in advance then the unit could have been installed in an area where it could be reached by the mobile elevated work platform, without an employee’s life being put in danger.”
More information on working at height is available at www.hse.gov.uk/falls.
Notes to Editors
- 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. www.hse.gov.uk
- 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.”