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Roofing contractor hit with £881,000 fines

The Newcastle factory roof through which Billy Hewitt fell

Billy Hewitt, a worker at Mitie Tilley Roofing Limited, fractured his pelvis after falling through a factory roof in Newcastle in November 2019.

Five months earlier, a 24-year-old labourer employed by RM Scaffolding broke his femur in June 2019 after falling through the roof of a building in Swansea while working on a project run by Mitie Tilley Roofing.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigated both incidents and prosecuted Mitie Tilley Roofing. Paul Robinson, a business partner at RM Scaffolding, was also prosecuted by HSE following the incident in Swansea.

On 11th November 2019, Billy Hewitt, 60, fractured his pelvis, left wrist and eye socket after falling through the roof of a factory in Throckley, Newcastle upon Tyne. He had been replacing a skylight when he fell and landed on the concrete floor seven metres below. He was in hospital for three weeks after the incident.

“You don’t go to work in the morning and expect to end up in intensive care but that’s what happened to me,” Mr Hewlitt said. “It’s been four years since my accident and I don’t know really do anything with my days. I really miss work. I was a roofer for 40 years but this accident changed everything because I still can’t work. I used to earn a good wage, but now I’m classed as 51% disabled and I rely entirely on benefits.”

The HSE investigation found Mitie Tilley had failed to properly plan and carry out the work to replace the skylight. The work at height had not been thoroughly assessed as a standalone piece of work. The investigation also found that safety nets were in place on other sections of the roof but not directly underneath the skylight where the accident happened.

The Swansea skylight
The Swansea skylight

On 3rd June 2019, a scaffold labourer, employed by RM Scaffolding, was crossing a fragile roof when he fell through a skylight at a unit at Plasmarl Industrial Estate in Swansea. The 24-year-old landed on his back approximately six metres on the floor below. He fractured his femur and suffered a blood clot in one of his main arteries, which required long-term medication.

HSE found that Mitie Tilley Roofing, the principal contractor for the project, had failed to plan, manage and monitor the work undertaken by RM Scaffolding, its subcontractor, to prevent unsafe work practices being used. Paul Robinson, a business partner at RM Scaffolding, failed to plan the work properly and ensure staff had appropriate skills, knowledge and experience. Robinson also failed to provide appropriate fall protection on the roof.

Following the incident on 11th November 2019, Mitie Tilley Roofing Limited, of London Bridge Street, London, was found guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, after a two-week trial in April 2023. After a three-day sentencing hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, on 6th December 2023 Mitie Tilley Roofing Limited was fined £575,000 and ordered to pay £84,940.08 in costs.

Concerning the incident on 3rd June 2019, Mitie Tilley Roofing pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. On 6th December 2023, it was handed a fine of £306,000 and ordered to pay £27,410.63 in costs.

Paul Robinson, of Laburnam Way, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. At Newcastle Crown Court on 5th December 2023 he was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid community service, to be served within 12 months. He was also ordered to pay £20,428.73 in costs.

HSE principal inspector John Heslop said: “Too many workers are injured or die every year as a result of falling through fragile rooflights without adequate fall prevention or protection measures in place. These were both shocking incidents, which had a lasting impact on those who were injured.

“The law is clear about the measures needed to ensure safety when working on fragile roofs and there is a wide range of guidance available from HSE and the Construction industry on correct ways of working. HSE will not hesitate to take action against employers who do not do all that they should to keep people safe.”

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