UK: The Importance Of Properly Prepared Method Statements And Risk Assessments

Late last year, the English Court of Appeal, in the case of E H Humphries (Norton) Ltd & Thistle Hotels Plc v Fire Alarm Fabrication Services Ltd - [2006] EWCA Civ 1496 – heard an appeal following the death of a worker who fell through a skylight window.

One of the issues the Court of Appeal had to consider was who bore responsibility for the accident, the worker’s employer (the sub-contractor under the scheme of the building contracts), the electrical contractor who had engaged the sub-contractor or the ultimate employer. This lead the Court of Appeal to consider questions relating to the scope of the duty of care owed by these parties.

The case also brought into focus the importance of properly prepared risk assessments and method statements which must be produced in good time so that all parties concerned have ample opportunity to understand what is required.

The Facts

On 9 January 2001, Ian Gray, a fire alarm installation engineer and employee of Fire Alarm Fabrication Services Limited ("FAFS") fell through a skylight window in the roof of a building at Victoria Station. He died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

This was an appeal by E H Humphries (Norton) Limited ("EHH") and Thistle Hotels Plc ("Thistle") against the decision that they were both liable to contribute to the damages which FAFS had paid to Mr Gray’s estate, on the basis that they were negligent and such negligence caused or contributed to Mr Gray’s accident.

Thistle had engaged EHH as the electrical contractor to carry out works at Thistle’s hotel. EHH had then engaged FAFS as the subcontractor to carry out the requisite fire alarm system modifications. The route for the electrical cables for the system had not been decided when FAFS started work. FAFS unilaterally decided to route the cables externally and Mr Gray went on to an adjacent roof owned by Railtrack and fell through it.

The trial judge found that no one had made it clear to FAFS that the option of external cabling was not to be pursued and, further, that it was up to FAFS to decide on the most appropriate route. EHH had been negligent in failing to obtain a proper method statement or risk assessment from FAFS and Thistle had been negligent in not disclosing that Railtrack did not allow anyone to go onto its roof except in accordance with its own permit system.

On appeal, EHH and Thistle contended that FAFS had been positively instructed not to route the cable externally and that it had not been open to the judge to find that FAFS’ representatives believed that it was for FAFS to decide which route to take and that accordingly EHH and Thistle were not in breach of any duty of care owed to Mr Gray.

The Issues

Whether the trial judge was entitled to find that EHH’s right to supervise the work so as to ensure that it was carried out safely imposed on it a duty of care which extended to FAFS’ employees; whether circumstances existed such that a duty of care could be imposed on EHH or Thistle to take care to avoid the accident which had occurred; and whether EHH was entitled to a contractual indemnity from FAFS in respect of damages under the provisions of their sub-contact.

The Decision

The appeals by both EHH and Thistle were allowed. The trial judge was entitled to find, in the circumstances, that EHH’s right to supervise the work so as to ensure it was carried out safely imposed on it a duty of care which extended to FAFS’ employees. However, on the evidence, the trial judge’s finding the FAFS’ representatives reasonably believed that FAFS was entitled to unilaterally decided how to route the cable could not stand.

The circumstances were therefore not such as to impose a duty of care on either EHH or Thistle to take care to avoid the accident which had occurred; Lord Justice May cited S v Gloucestershire County Council [2001] Fam. 313, Caparo [1990] 2 AC 605 and Murphy v Brentwood District Council [1991] 1 AC 398 in approval. In addition, the Court found that EHH was not entitled to a contractual indemnity from FAFS in respect of damages under provisions of their sub-contract.


This tragic case serves to illustrate just how important properly prepared method statements and risk assessments are to any construction project. Such documents should be prepared well in advance of work being undertaken and studied by all parties involved, to ensure any risks are identified and mitigated at the outset. It is also important to ensure that all parties understand how the decision making process works. If specialist contractors are not entitled to unilaterally make decisions in their area of expertise, then that should be clearly spelt out before work is undertaken.

This case also serves as a reminder as to how and when a duty of care may be imposed. When faced with this problem, the Court must establish whether a duty of care in fact existed, whether that duty was breached and what damage was caused by the breach of that duty. In keeping with the S v Gloucestershire case, it is critical to establish whether the scope of the duty of care in the circumstances of the case was such as to encompass the damages sustained. The question of scope is determined by assessing the kind of damage from which one party must save another party from.

This article is the latest Fenwick Elliott Legal Briefing which is a weekly on-line feature which appears on Building magazine’s website. The Legal Briefing provides comment on recent, sometimes controversial, legal issues. For further information please visit

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.