HSE shut down 34% of ‘technically-challenging’ high risk projects
Over a third of basement projects on domestic homes in three London boroughs failed unannounced safety checks in a two-day clampdown during November 2013.
Domestic basement projects are said by HSE to be “technically-challenging and carry substantial risks”. Common issues found during the inspections were:
- Planning – work on the projects not properly planned following a systemmatic assessment of risks;
- Stability – temporary works engineer not appointed to design support for excavations and structures;
- Welfare – poor or absent welfare facilities for workers; and
- Falls – basic precautions absent e.g. edge protection to prevent falls, especially into excavations.
HSE inspectors visited 107 sites across the Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster and took enforcement action at 36 sites (overall rate of 34%). A total 41 Prohibition Notices were issued requiring dangerous practices to stop with immediate effect, and 21 Improvement Notices required safety improvements.
Most prohibitions concerned unsafe work at height and “dangerous excavations” was also an area of concern. Poor welfare provision accounted for three quarters of the Improvement Notices issued by HSE.
ASUCplus (the independent trade association) has published, in consultation with HSE, Industry Basement Safety Guidelines on basement construction directly below or near to existing structures.
Progress achieved by some contractors
HSE state that although domestic basement projects remain a cause for concern there is evidence that some progress is being made.
The results show that contractors who have previously engaged with HSE in activity of this kind have made improvements. The poorest standards identified were generally found on projects operated by contractors previously unknown to visiting inspectors.
Andrew Beal, Principal Inspector for HSE’s Construction Division in the City and South West London explained:
“The overall picture is on a par with other targeted inspections of basement work, and we also identified the same kind of problems relating to unsafe work at height and excavations, and poor welfare facilities.
That suggests the message isn’t getting through, or that there is complacency towards health and safety across this sector of the construction industry. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
What we found during the inspections was that better standards were usually at sites managed by companies who are known to HSE, a number of whom have previously received enforcement notices requiring improvements to be made.
It illustrates that lessons have been learned, and we hope the latest failings that required action will have a similar impact.”