Ladder death was an accident

A POLISH electrical engineer who was working at a Suffolk warehouse complex died accidentally when he fell from a ladder, an inquest has ruled.

A POLISH electrical engineer who was working at a Suffolk warehouse complex died accidentally when he fell from a ladder, an inquest has ruled.

Robert Schmelter, 42, was climbing down the A-frame ladder after carrying out modifications to a newly-built fumigation container at Anchor Storage, in Kenton, near Debenham.

The accident took place on October 1, 2007, as Mr Schmelter and a colleague worked inside the container.

The inquest, held at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday, heard that Dutch engineer Jaap Vos saw Mr Schmelter fall from the steps “out of the corner of his eye”.

He fell to the ground, hitting his head, and the ladder landed on top of him.

Although Mr Schmelter regained consciousness for a short while, he had suffered a fractured skull and injuries to his brain and brain stem.

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He died in Ipswich Hospital two days later and a coroner ruled that the cause of death was “cerebral trauma”.

The inquest was told that Mr Vos was an employee of EcO2, a Dutch firm that had built and was adding fittings to the container, and Mr Schmelter was an experienced sub-contractor who had been working for the firm for nearly three years.

There had been no risk assessment completed for the specific job but Nico Vroom, of EcO2, said the company had built and modified more than 170 containers around the world and staff were trained to be aware of the health and safety regulations in different countries and request additional equipment if required.

The inquest heard from three health and safety experts and the jury was told that Mr Schmelter should only have been working from the top of a ladder “as a last resort” as he sealed a void in the roof container.

Inspector David Wonford said an extendable or raised platform would be the preferred options when carrying out such work.

He said: “Rather than the ladder falling I think it was Mr Schmelter missing his footing and the ladder falling on top of him.

“The ladder should be used to access a working platform, rather than be used as a working platform.”

He said that there was “no reason” why alternative equipment had not been used.

The jury of eight women and two men was told that the ladder used for the job had faulty bracing bars, used for support when it is placed in an A-frame, but they were not the reason for the fall.

Robert McDermot, a health and safety inspector from Mid Suffolk District Council, said Mr Schmelter may have been climbing down the “wrong” side of the ladder with a heavy mastic gun in his hand when he lost his footing.

The jury took just over half an hour to reach a unanimous verdict that the death had been the result of an accident.