Iain Mawson, an aircraft engineer employed by British Airways Maintenance Cardiff (BAMC) Ltd – fell from a maintenance dock at BAMC’s facility in Cardiff whilst inspecting the wing of a Boeing 747. Such was the extent of his injuries, including multiple skull fractures and a brain haemorrhage, Iain was placed into an induced coma for three weeks and has not returned to work since.
There were two tasks taking place at the time: one was to remove the boat fairings, which protect part of the mechanism of the wing; the second was to fit wing flaps, which had been removed for maintenance.
Engineers at BAMC were working off a platform about two metres high and had to remove the boat fairings from the wing, which left a gap of around a metre in the guardrail. They used safety barriers slotted into lugs on either side to fill the gap in the guardrail. The team working on the plane then had to crane the flaps up to refit them. To do that, the team removed the safety barrier, otherwise part of the wing flap mechanism could hit the guardrail.
Unfortunately, this was at 4 pm on a winter’s evening, it was the end of the four-day shift and a new bay had opened up, so there was a lot going on. Workers stated there was a lot of pressure to get the job done. After the wing flaps were in place, the safety barrier was not refitted, but given the time of day it was dark and this was not easily visible.
Iain and another aircraft engineer were about to do a duplicate inspection of the wing flaps to check that the flaps were correctly fitted and the plane was safe to fly. The other aircraft engineer was delayed, so Iain went up onto the platform alone to start his inspection. What happened next is unclear but an employee nearby heard something hit the ground and when they got closer they realised that Iain had fallen.
The fall was only two metres, but people underestimate the effect of a fall from two metres. His injuries were very severe, so an ambulance was called and a doctor from the local air ambulance station came. They stabilised him and then Iain was transferred to Heath Hospital in Cardiff.
On 6 January 2023 at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court, British Airways Maintenance Cardiff Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It was fined £230,000 and ordered to pay costs of £21,623.
The Work at Height Regulations are very clear. Firstly it’s important to plan the work at height, especially where you have something that is of such a day-to-day nature that you have almost forgotten that it is working at height.
Each task must be adequately analysed. It’s not a case of what you think is happening but what actually is happening. Watch people do their tasks and watch their use of the equipment. Don’t forget that while there are tasks to do in terms of the job itself – in this case, on the aircraft – there are also tasks associated with the platforms, such as de-docking.
One of the things people would argue is that nobody would go back up onto a platform when an aircraft has left, but we know people do – they might have left a tool up there, for example. It might be less likely, but always consider the potential for risk, the implications and what can be done.
The guidance is very clear. The responsibility for health and safety lies with the duty holder. They are responsible to ensure they have adequately assessed risks and have looked at how they can prevent or control risks, especially working at height – there is a clear requirement to prevent work at height where possible, and if not, to control it. In this case, there was a lack of planning, lack of supervision and the actual practice was not safe.
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