A roofer has been fined after appearing in court following his decision to foot a double extension ladder on a transit van in order to access a third floor façade.

George Nicholls blatantly risked harming himself and others as he used the ladder to paint the front of a shop on St Marys Road in Southampton on 14 March 2013. His handiwork was captured on camera by a council environmental health officer following a tip-off from a concerned member of the public.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Mr Nicholls for safety failings, along with the company that paid him to carry out the work. Trading as Laser Roofing London and South East Roofing Limited, he had been sub-contracted by Norfolk-based Maintenance 24-7 Ltd for the paint job because the company did not possess the correct equipment or expertise.

Ladders were specified as the chosen method of work, but after finding the façade was too high for the ladder, the roofer improvised by placing it on the roof of his van and worked from it fully-extended – around eight metres off the ground – with a labourer providing the footing.

The court heard this system was incredibly risky. Not only could Mr Nicholls or his labourer have fallen, but there was no segregation to prevent vehicles or pedestrians from passing under or near the work area. So they could have been struck by falling equipment or materials. The van in question was also parked over a bus stop on a busy road with double yellow lines. A pavement licence should have been obtained to create a properly segregated safe-working area, and scaffolding or a mobile elevated work platform would have provided a safer option for accessing the façade.

Maintenance 24-7 Ltd admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and a further breach of the Work at Height Regulations SI 2005/735. They were fined £10,000 with £784 in costs. George Nicholls was fined a total of £4,000 and ordered to pay £666 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching the same Act.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Frank Flannery commented, “The photographic evidence speaks for itself in terms of the risks created. Anyone can see the system of work is plain wrong, so why a supposedly competent roofer chose to work in this way is anyone's guess.

“George Nicholls blatantly and recklessly risked harming himself and others, and he did so on behalf of Maintenance 24-7 Ltd, who had clear duties of their own to ensure the work at height was properly planned, managed and executed in a safe manner.

“The standards of both parties fell far below those required, and I would like to thank the concerned member of the public who initially brought the matter to the council's attention.”