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Window cleaners fined £10k over employee fall risk

Window cleaners fined £10k over employee fall risk

Saturday 15 February 2020

Window cleaners fined £10k over employee fall risk


A window cleaning business owner has been fined £10,000 for letting his employees work on a first-floor ledge at a town hairdressers' without any support - leaving them at risk of falling five metres.

The two breaches of the Health and Safety Law came despite Henry Robertson Ronald Brown (64), owner of Ronnie Brown Window Cleaners (RBWC), being warned five years' earlier of the risks.

Appearing in the Royal Court for sentencing on Friday, he was also ordered to pay £1,000 of prosecution costs.

The court heard that the breaches were discovered in March 2019, when a Health and Safety Officer for a local company contacted the Health and Safety Inspectorate (HSI) after seeing two RBWC workers “at risk of falling from a ledge and a ladder” whilst cleaning the windows of a hairdressing and beauty salon in town.  

The officer – who said she had seen workers clean the windows from the ledge on three or four occasions previously – sent photographs showing two men – one of whom was on an unpaid trial shift - working on a 45cm wide ledge on the first floor, at five meters above the ground, with nothing preventing them from falling. 

Meanwhile, another employee was exposed to the risk of falling by working from a ladder in “an unsafe manner”, with foot on the rung and over stretching to one side to clean the window. 

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Pictured: The window cleaners were put at “risk of death or serious personal injury”, the Court heard.

In addition, Crown Advocate Chris Baglin said, there were no barriers, cones, tape or warning signs isolating the work area from pedestrians or road users, which put them at “risk of death or serious personal injury”. 

The Court heard that the two employees had climbed onto the ledge using a ladder. Once they were in position, the third employee brought it down to clean the ground floor windows, leaving the other two “trapped”. 

An investigation established RWBC’s employees had not received any information or instruction on how to safely clean the salon’s windows. One of them stated he had “never received any training” during his twelve years at RBWC but had instead “learned on the job”. 

All three employees said they didn’t know the first-floor windows could be fully opened from inside the salon, despite its owner having given a key to Brown for access.

The Court heard Brown had been served an improvement notice by HSI in 2014 following a similar incident and had put a Method Statement/Safe System of Work document in place as a result.

While he felt it was still valid as, in his words, “work never changes”, the Crown Advocate noted that the most recent incident shown he had failed to follow it and continue working in the “same unsafe manner”. 

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Pictured: Brown had been served an improvement notice by HSI in 2014 following a similar incident.

When asked how risks were assessed, Brown said that, prior to starting a job, he would talk with his employees about how to carry the work and what to charge the client.

He explained he worked on the basis that any work up to the first floor could be carried out from a ladder, without the need for additional controls.

Discussing the job at the hair salon, for which no risk assessment or method statement had been produced, he said: “I thought that height was ok to go up to.”

He could not explain why employees had not cleaned the windows from inside the salon, despite the windows being specially designed for that purpose.

He also said employees had always worked there from the first-floor ledge, which Crown Advocate Baglin said, indicated that “the significant risks were not identified and controlled over a prolonged period, during which employees and members of the public were exposed to risks to their health and safety”.  

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Pictured: The Crown Advocate said he would have normally recommended a £40,000 fine.

The Crown Advocate said Brown had shown “a complete lack of knowledge with regard to the risks involved with working at height” despite the abundance of freely available information and guidance on working at height.

However, he noted that since the incident, Brown had taken steps to reduce risks to his employees by investing in a reach and wash system, including a van and washing pole. 

He said he would have normally recommended a £40,000 fine but instead argued that a £10,000 one should be imposed due to RBWC’s financial situation. He also recommended they should pay £1,000 towards the prosecution costs.

Advocate Nicolas Le Miere, defending, said that while Brown “should have known better”. he hadn’t “deliberately flouted the law”.

He also noted Brown hadn't acted for financial gain or forced his employees to undertake work they didn’t feel comfortable doing. 

“He did not see the ledge as unduly high,” Advocate Le Miere said. “…He did not brazenly disregard regulation… He did not abuse his position of power in regards of employees in his care.”

He said Brown would not purposefully put his employees in harm’s way and that the work had been carried out early in the morning to avoid the “worst of the footfall”.

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Pictured: Advocate Nicolas le Miere was defending.

The defence lawyer said that while structured training was lacking, some had been provided. 

He also told Court Brown was remorseful for not implementing the measures earlier and accepted his shortcomings.

Returning the Court’s sentence, the Bailiff, Timothy Le Cocq, noted that there were neither protective measures to prevent worker from falling or injuring themselves nor no warning markings in the area. 

He said that Brown didn’t appear to have learned his lesson and had failed to heed warnings after the notice served in 2014.

The Bailiff described the health and safety breaches as "serious", noting Brown had fallen substantially short of the required standard, and said it was extremely lucky no one had been injured.

He said a £40,000 fine would have been merited, but agreed with the Crown Advocate to impose a £10,000 fine and ask Brown to pay £1,000 of prosecution costs.

If Brown does not pay within a week, he was warned he could face a month in prison.  

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Posted by Peter Richardson on
I agree with the court it’s unfair on the window cleaners employees to feel they need to take such risks. But a risk assessment for each and every job they undertake? Let’s get real please.
Posted by Scott Mills on
George Formby springs to mind.
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