City roofing company fined after man falls to his death

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A city roofing company has been fined more than £10,000 for safety failings after a worker fell to his death from an unsuitable and badly maintained ladder at a Milton Keynes home.

Thomas Rowe, 56, from Crownhill, was undertaking roofline repairs at the two-storey property on January 14, 2012 when he fell almost five metres to the ground below, sustaining a fatal head injury.

He was working for Milton Keynes Roofing Ltd, which was prosecuted yesterday by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation revealed serious concerns with the equipment selected and used for the task.

Aylesbury Crown Court heard that Mr Rowe, a self-employed roofer who was sub-contracted to the firm on an ad-hoc basis, was working at the rear of a home on Hodder Lane to install weatherproof eaves protectors.

He accessed the roofline using a two-part extension ladder that was footed by the company director, who was also a close family friend.

The exact circumstances of how he came to fall are unclear, but he evidently slipped after failing to maintain a secure contact with the ladder and the building as he tried to work.

Thames Valley Police attended the scene before HSE was notified three days later. HSE’s investigation established that the choice of extension ladder was inappropriate, and that a more rigid system, such as a tower scaffold, should have been used instead.

Inspectors also found that the ladder had damaged rungs and missing footers, and as such should not have been in use at all.

The court was told that Mr Rowe’s death could have been prevented had a better system and equipment been in use.

Milton Keynes Roofing Ltd, of Laurel Close, was fined a total of £11,672 after pleading guilty to two separate breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

The judge ruled that the level of fine he imposed was indicative of the company’s limited means to pay, not the seriousness of the failings or the value of Mr Rowe’s life. No prosecution costs were awarded.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector John Berezansky said: “All work at height has to be properly planned and managed, and there were clear failings with the equipment used by Milton Keynes Roofing Ltd.

“Even short duration tasks need planning and foresight, and it is evident that had more appropriate equipment been provided then Mr Rowe’s tragic death could have been avoided.

“We were unable to find a direct link between the state of the ladder and his fall, but I also hope this case underlines the need to ensure that work equipment is properly maintained and fit for purpose.”