A solar worker broke his back after falling six metres through the roof light of a barn in Northamptonshire.

The 20-year-old solar installer has been unable to work since the incident occurred in November 2011 and has suffered from constant pain and depression as a result of his injury.  

The company, Alternative Energy Installations, and its technical director have been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to control the risk of falling through fragile roof materials.

The company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £27,000 in costs after being found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work act. The company’s technical director, Ian Black, was fined £7,300 and ordered to pay £6,700 in costs after pleading guilty to the same charge at an earlier magistrates’ court appearance.

Commenting on the case, HSE inspector Peter Snelgrove said: “This fall could have been fatal and was entirely and easily preventable. As it is, the incident has dramatically affected a young man, starting out in life, and he has not worked again since. He has been affected personally, emotionally and physically and has had to change his whole way of life. He will more than likely need to retrain and his loss of self-confidence has had a drastic effect on his social life.

“The director was aware that the roof lights were fragile, but failed to put any measures in place to prevent falls, despite another worker asking if they would be wearing safety harnesses, at which Mr Black laughed. The fact that they were able to overcome the problem so simply afterwards, by using crawling boards and safety netting, shows how easy it was to prevent the incident.”

HSE warns that more than 6,300 employees suffered major injuries in 2013 after falling from height at work. In addition, workers falling from roofs accounted for just less than a quarter of all workers killed in falls from heights. Falls through fragile roof materials such as the case outlined above represent the majority of these deaths, more than any other single cause.

Snelgrove concluded: “Alternative Energy Installations Limited should have ensured that the work at height was properly planned and that workers had the right protective equipment and had been trained in its use.”