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CONSTRUCTION HEALTH AND SAFETY NEWS: 03-07 MARCH 2008

DEMOLITION INCIDENTS

 

Major UK contractor fined following building collapse 

A fine of £60k has been imposed on a major UK contractor following the collapse of a building. A retaining wall was not installed to prevent the collapse. The contractor has stressed that their health and safety culture has improved significantly since the incident. There were no injuries.

Building collapse results in fine for specialist demolition contractor

A specialist demolition contractor has been ordered to pay £30k in fines and prosecution costs after a building collapsed onto a pavement. Investigators found that stability of the structure had not assessed properly and the area was not cordoned off. Advice

Comment: In the first of these cases there was a considerable period of time between the offence and conclusion of legal proceedings. Such delays can be caused by the need for an inquest (not in this case), complexity of the investigation or an initial defence subsequently changed to a guilty plea. Both cases highlight the danger of structures collapsing in an uncontrolled manner. The incidence of such structural collapses seems to have increased in recent months on refurbishment projects. Steps to avoid a structural collapse during refurbishment works include: 

  • in-depth survey of the building before work starts;
  • review of original design and other documentation; 
  • structural assessment of the existing structure;
  • design and installation of any necessary temporary support and;
  • communication of what is required to all concerned.        

ROOFWORK DEATH

Roofer falls to his death on new homes project  

A 48-year-old roofer has died after falling 15m from scaffolding. He was employed by a roofing sub contractor working for a developer. A full investigation involving police and HSE has begun to look at the circumstances of the incident. Advice 

OVERHEAD POWERLINES  

Driver in hospital after cement lorry strikes high voltage powerline 

A vehicle driver has been airlifted to hospital after part of his cement wagon came into contact with an overhead power line on a construction project for a water company. He is known to have suffered burns but his injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

Comment: It is best to obtain a copy of network plans before starting any work near overhead power lines. There are three categories of precaution recommended by the electricity supply industry and these should always be taken to avoid such incidents. Advice  

ASBESTOS EXPOSURE

University college and Clerk of Works fined after asbestos exposures  

These prosecutions follow an incident during which a number of painters were exposed to asbestos containing materials. The college was fined £30k in fines and costs and the Clerk of Works fined £1,000.  The asbestos containing material was of a type that requires persons to hold a licence. Advice

Comment: Work carried out by painters, electricians, carpenters and joiners in existing buildings is seen by HSE as having significant potential for exposure to asbestos fibres. Prosecution of a manager or other employee is a relatively rare occurrence and it is therefore interesting to note that the Clerk of Works involved in this incident was prosecuted in addition to the employing college. Advice

REFURBISHMENT PROJECTS

Safety standards on refurbishment projects are dangerously low 

During February 2008 HSE carried out 1000 spot checks on refurbishment projects and found that more than one in three sites visited “put lives at risk”. A total of nearly 400 enforcement notices were served and worked was stopped on 30% of sites.

Comment: During 2006/07 half of those who died on construction sites worked in refurbishment and the number of deaths on such sites rose by 61%. This latest HSE initiative is one of four conducted since 2005 and poor standards have been found to be widespread on each occasion. These initiatives do not appear to be having the desired impact on standards of health and safety management. Despite poor standards being found during each initiative very few prosecutions seem to be instituted. Those working in the refurbishment sector may find that HSE now decides that prosecution of companies and individuals is the only way forward. Advice     

PILING OPERATIONS

Piling rig overturns on homebuilding project

A piling rig has collapsed on a site in London. HSE are making enquiries into the incident at a residential and office complex. The rig driver escaped unharmed and there were no other injuries. The rig came to rest within metres of nearby occupied offices.

Comment: Dangerous incidents involving piling rigs often arise from instability of the working platform. Responsibility for design, installation and maintenance of the platform should be clearly defined and understood. One aspect of a safe system of work is for the rig operators not to commence work on site until a signed working platform certificate is received from the principal contractor. Advice    

TOWER CRANE SAFETY

HSE spells out actions required to secure tower crane safety

HSE has visited tower crane hirers across GB and reported the findings to an open meeting with the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA). The meeting is said to have highlighted the lack of tower crane knowledge among some contractors and the need for good communications between contractors and hire crane providers. The HSE findings included: 

  • over-reliance on reactive maintenance of tower cranes;
  • faults with cranes not classified consistently and; 
  • reporting of defects not made to a sufficiently senior level in the organisation. 

The new draft best practice guide on the Maintenance and Thorough Examination of Tower Cranes will require that parts and consumables are replaced on a time basis rather than waiting for them to wear out, and that crane inspectors should report directly to the managing director.Advice 

Comment: The CPA and users/hirers of tower cranes appear to be working with HSE in a productive manner to improve safety in this area. Contractors hiring tower cranes need to be satisfied as to the competencies and systems of the organisation from whom the crane is hired. Likewise, crane hire companies must themselves be satisfied that the contractor to whom the crane is hired has the necessary skills to manage tower crane use.   

EXCAVATIONS

Chinese worker trapped in excavation saved by air pocket in safety helmet 

A construction worker in China has had miraculous escape after becoming trapped in an excavation. It is reported that he survived by controlled breathing and using the air trapped in his safety helmet. He appears to have escaped unharmed.

Comment: It is tempting to believe that failure to support a excavation now only occurs in countries such as China where health and safety standards are believed to be low. This is not so, and each year in GB there are some 2-3 deaths and many injuries caused by collapsing excavations. Advice   

LEGAL NEWS

Fines imposed in prosecutions involving fatal injuries increase sharply  

The average fine imposed in prosecution cases following a fatal construction injury has increased significantly to almost £50k which is twice the level for 2005/06. Total fines in such cases increased to £1.64m from £450k. 

Comment: The majority of prosecutions involving fatal injury are heard in the Crown Court where fines are unlimited. Pressure groups and others have argued for the Courts to make fuller use of this sentencing power. The reported increase in average fines suggest this is beginning to be reflected in court decisions. From 6 April 2008 all work related deaths will be subject to a Police/HSE investigation to establish whether or not an offence of Corporate Manslaughter has been committed, in addition to any health and safety offences. The fines imposed for Corporate Manslaughter offences should be significantly higher and accompanied by damaging publicity orders. Advice    

Prosecutions added to the HSE database this week  

The above link finds prosecutions taken by HSE Construction Division that have been added to the database this week. There were 0 (zero) cases added this week which relates to the period 23-31 December 2007 – Christmas and New Year!    

OTHER NEWS STORIES

Protestors take over tower crane

Construction activity hits new activity low

Brickwork contractor docks pay for those without skills card

Spot checks on qualifications of electricians working on the London underground

AND FINALLY… 

BBC Three Counties Radio explores health and safety

For the last two weeks I have been discussing health and safety on a local BBC Radio station. For readers with time on your hands tune in to the Danny Greenstone programme at around 3.30pm next Sunday to see if I’ve been invited back to talk again! [Update 11.03.08: Just heard that I am being ‘rested’ for a few weeks!]

I hope you find our News Desk helpful and informative. We always try to reflect your feedback in the content and format.

Best wishes

Philip Poynter

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