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INJURED AND FINED AFTER ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTION

Personal injury fails to protect contractor from prosecution

William Melvin Batten (Bill Batten Concrete Cutting and Demolition Services T/A) who suffered a fractured spine while demolishing a school classroom has now been fined for safety failings that could have also put the safety of others in danger.

Mr Batten (aged 66) was injured when he removed key timber supports at the corners of the roof, destabilising the structure and causing it to collapse on top of him. The collapse was witnessed by schoolchildren in a nearby playground on their lunch break.

HSE found Mr Batten started work he was not supposed to undertake. The roof of the temporary classroom was been supported by timber in each corner. Steel fixtures had been inserted to add additional structural support for the windows, but not the roof.

North and East Devon Magistrates heard (29 July) that the firm was contracted to demolish two buildings at Lympstone Church of England Primary School.

A ‘soft strip’ of the temporary classroom took place on 11 June 2013 and demolition of the main structure by mechanical means was to be carried out on the following days. A further risk assessment and method statement was to also be submitted prior to the structural demolition going ahead.

However, after Mr Batten had finished the ‘soft strip’ with two labourers, he decided to undertake further stripping work, including the removal of the timber supports to the corners and cladding.

He wrongly assumed steel stanchions supporting the windows were holding up the roof when in fact they were not. When the wooden struts to the corners of the building were removed, the roof became unstable and collapsed. The two employees narrowly escaped harm but Mr Batten, was trapped underneath the roof for several hours.

Employees lucky to escape without injury

William Melvin Batten, trading as Bill Batten Concrete Cutting and Demolition Service, of Exeter Road, Kingsteignton, Devon, was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £868.90 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 29(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after sentencing HSE inspector James Powell, said:

“William Batten failed to ensure the demolition of the temporary classroom was carried out without presenting a danger to anyone, including himself and two employees. The work had been properly planned, by his son and partner, in advance and had the work been carried out in that manner, this incident would not have happened.

He had not demolished a classroom like this one before but he was aware that he was only to undertake a soft-strip and that he knew the main structure was going to be brought down with a machine at a later date – once the inside had been cleared.

But after stripping the internal fixtures, Mr Batten continued to strip the building, wrongly assuming that the steel fixtures supporting the windows were holding up the roof. The two other employees on site at the time were extremely lucky to have escaped with no injuries.

Demolition, dismantling and structural alteration are high risk activities which require careful planning and execution by trained demolition operatives under the supervision of a competent person.”

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