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Failure to Comply with Health and Safety Duties Leads to Life-Changing Injury

If a tradesman sustains injury whilst working on a client's premises, should the client be liable to pay compensation? The High Court pondered that important issue in the case of a builder who fell through a barn roof, suffering a catastrophic injury.

The builder, who was in his late 50s, was engaged by a farmer to replace the barn's guttering. Working alongside his son, he sensibly installed crawler boards so as to spread his weight on the barn's fragile roof. As his son passed sections of guttering up to him, however, he lost his footing and crashed through the brittle roof to the floor below. He suffered a spinal fracture that left him paraplegic.

In seeking compensation, he alleged negligence and various breaches of statutory duty on the farmer's part. Amongst other things, it was claimed that steps would have been taken to minimise the risk of injury had a written construction phase plan been completed in accordance with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 before work commenced.

Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that it was beyond doubt that both farmer and builder failed to comply with obligations placed on them by the Regulations. Both were unaware of their existence prior to the accident. However, that did not provide an excuse for, much less a defence to, any failure in compliance.

The Court noted, however, that the duty to put in place a formal construction phase plan rested upon both farmer and builder. Breach of the Regulations did not, by itself, give rise to civil liability to pay compensation. The Court was also not satisfied that the exercise of writing down plans that were in the builder's head would have resulted in a different outcome.

The builder was highly experienced and had for many years carried out jobs for the farmer and his father before him. He was performing an apparently straightforward guttering job, albeit on a fragile roof. It was obviously reasonable for the farmer to expect that he would appreciate and guard against risks inherent in the job. Given the difference in their age and experience, the Court was sure that the builder would have considered it an impertinence had the farmer purported to supervise his work.

In dismissing the builder's claim, the Court expressed admiration for the manner in which he had conducted himself in the face of such terrible adversity. It was a matter of great regret that his career had ended in the way it had after so many essentially injury-free years of devoted service to countless clients.

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