Lack of Training and Risk Assessment Partly blamed for fall

Jason Sharp (via John Sharp) v Top Flight Scaffolding (Queen’s Bench Division, 8 March 2013)

The claimant had worked for the defendant as a scaffolder for many years and was working with his nephew who was a self-employed scaffolder’s labourer.  

A property at which they were erecting scaffolding had no rear access, so the scaffolding had to be taken through the house, although they could not do the same with the ladders.  The claimant was on top of the scaffold, but had no safe means of descending and asked his nephew to telephone the defendant for instructions.  The claimant fell, although there were no witnesses and the claimant was unable to give evidence at trial.  

The claimant alleged a failure to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and for failures under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, including planning and supervising the work.  

The claimant had received no formal training since the 1990s and argued the defendant had failed to ensure he remained competent to organise, plan and erect scaffolding.  The company argued that the claimant was an experienced scaffolder, had been appropriately trained and that there was a generic risk assessment for the work to be undertaken.  

The judge found that it was unacceptable to have relied on the claimant’s own ability to assess the job for himself without the need for a risk assessment or method statement.  If he had been properly trained and the task adequately assessed, the claimant would have incorporated the use of internal ladders available to him.   

Comment – This case reinforces the principle that a failure to demonstrate an up-to-date training record, risk assessment and safe system of working, dictated that the company was liable, in part, for the claimant’s own actions.  However, the judge found that the decision to climb down the outside of the scaffold had been taken deliberately by the claimant and he had erected a scaffold without any ready means of safe access.  The claimant subsequently bore the greater responsibility with his own contributory negligence assessed at 60%.