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CLIENT FAILED TO ENGAGE COMPETENT CONTRACTOR

Demolition death provides client contractor competence check wake-up call

Moor Park Charitable Trust Ltd, which operates a boarding school, has been ordered to pay £40k in fines and prosecution costs after a workman died when a building collapsed during demolition of a school building in August 2007. Moor Park School, in Shropshire, had arranged for a team of inexperienced building workers to demolish a large wooden classroom.

The HSE Investigation revealed that there was no effective demolition plan in place. When integral supports within the classroom structure were removed the roof collapsed while five men were inside the building.

The court heard from James Puzey, prosecuting on behalf of HSE, who said the trust had not taken proper steps regarding duties under the CDM Regulations as regards the competence of those engaged by the school.

Multiple deaths avoided by pure chance

Mark Evans, aged 40, of Ludlow suffocated when the 2.4 tonne roof collapsed on him. Four other men survived without serious injury due to the chance positioning of a dumper which was parked inside part of the building thereby creating an escape route.

Shrewsbury Crown Court heard that Moor Park School had arranged for self-employed general building worker, Mr Christopher Morris who was undertaking some minor roofing work on the site, to carry out the work.

He asked four other self-employed building workers to assist in the demolition even though none of them had training or relevant experience.

His Honour Judge Robin Onions was told that a member of the trust committee recommended Mr Morris for the demolition work. However the trust did not check whether he was qualified or competent to carry it out the work. The court heard there was no criticism of Mr Morris as a construction worker.

Clients must check competence

HSE inspector Nic Rigby said:

“There were five men inside this building when it collapsed. Mr Evans paid the ultimate price for the school’s failings. But for sheer good fortune, all five of them could have been killed.”

“But Mr Evans and the other workers should not have been put at such increased risk. Had Moor Park School taken reasonable steps to properly consider the demolition work, they would have appointed a competent and experienced contractor, and avoided the roof collapse.

“This awful event and the prosecution of the school must send a very clear message to all those who commission construction or demolition work. It must be properly planned and carried out by those with the experience and competence to do so.”

Comment

This tragic case has some important lessons. Firstly, it provides a wake up call for all construction clients and in particular the smaller and infrequent client.

The HSW Act 1974 and CDM Regulations 2007 together impose client duties regarding the competence and management of contractors. All clients must take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure contractors are competent to carry out the work for which they are engaged. On larger projects (30 days + duration) the client must appointed a CDM Co-ordinator (CDM-C) whose role includes assisting the client with such competence checks.

However, on smaller projects where a CDM-C is not a legal requirement the client must still take those reasonable steps on competence assessment. This case raises the question of how many other clients are failing to take such steps?

If clients do not possess in-house skills to assess contractor competence the ‘safest’ option may be to use the services of a CDM-C on all projects. Given the ongoing duty to manage contractors this may be the route chosen by an increasing number of responsible clients.

Secondly, the case shows how smaller projects present as much potential for multiple fatalities as larger projects. It was only a matter of luck that a parked dumper truck provided support for the falling roof and prevented more widespread injury and possible further deaths.

Those involved with major projects may see this case as further evidence that smaller projects and their clients / contractors should attract the lion share of regulator attention.

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