Checking ladders regularly is a task that no one likes to do, and from personal experience I know that most of my clients roll their eyes when I ask to see their ladder register during an audit. But one company who will be checking ladders regularly is Volvo.
A stepladder fall cost Volvo £900,000.
The accident happened at a Volvo Truck and Bus Centre depot in Enfield. The technician was servicing a lorry.
He fetched a stepladder from the warehouse to carry out the repair.
Other workers on the site heard a loud crash. They found the repair technician unconscious, lying face down on the ground with the closed stepladder by his legs.
“There were no eyewitnesses so we’re not sure exactly what happened”, said Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Nicholas Wright, “but we can speculate that the ladder slipped and he hit his head on the truck bed.”
The worker was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and had to remain in hospital for a further three weeks. He still suffers from ongoing complications and has been unable to return to work.
The HSE visited the site and found “One of the anti-slip rubber feet was missing and another was worn. It was unfit for use.”
The ladder the worker was using was not Volvo property (it is not known who brought it on site) and had not been maintained or checked to ensure it was suitable for use.
The HSE found that Volvo had not trained its staff to select, inspect and use access equipment for height work. It also found there were no effective arrangements in place to maintain the equipment in good condition, or to detect deterioration.
The access equipment in the workshop had not been inspected for over a year, despite an internal health and safety audit which reported the non-compliance seven months prior to the incident.
The case was heard at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by District Judge Purdy, who determined that the company’s culpability was ‘medium, harm category 2’ – since seriousness of harm risked was Level B with a high likelihood. The starting point for the fine was £600,000 and the Judge took into account Volvo’s early guilty plea and mitigation, and gave full credit for its good health and safety record. However, he also took account of Volvo’s significant turnover and moved outside the category range for a large organisation.
He fined the company £900,000, ordered it to pay costs of £5,820, and dismissed its application for 28 days to pay the fine, stating that it was a criminal penalty, “not some inconvenient invoice”.
HSE and all serious health and safety practitioners recognise ladders are an essential tool, but like all equipment it must be in good working order, checked, and staff who use it aware of the risks and limitations.