Working at height is inherently dangerous and employers who create risk by failing to carefully plan and supervise such operations will be hit hard in the pocket. In a case on point, a utilities company received a six-figure fine following a worker’s fatal fall as he was clearing ivy from an electricity pole.
The experienced linesman was using a handsaw when he accidentally cut through the positioning belt that was all that was supporting him at the top of the pole. He was not wearing a lanyard that would have arrested his fall, and it was agreed that the work ought to have been carried out using a ladder or an elevated platform. The company was subsequently convicted of an offence under Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £900,000.
In dismissing the company’s challenge to the conviction, the Court of Appeal rejected its plea that the jury’s verdict was fatally inconsistent with its acquittal on two other health and safety charges. The operation had not been properly planned or supervised in that no steps had been taken to ensure that tools required to carry out the job safely were readily available. The linesman had arrived for work that morning without even knowing whether there was work at height to be done.
In reducing the company’s fine to £135,000, however, the Court found that the case fell on the cusp between low and medium culpability. Although the need to plan for work at height was obvious there was, on the facts of the case, a low likelihood of harm. In the circumstances, the original penalty was manifestly excessive.