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    BASEMENT PROJECT SAFETY REMAINS BELOW PAR

    One in two basement sites in London fail safety inspections

    HSE has reported that almost half of domestic basement projects across three London boroughs failed unannounced safety checks during a two-day initiative during March 2015. The inspection initiative involved visits to 127 sites across Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and parts of Westminster.

    Enforcement action was taken at 62 of the sites – an overall rate of 48% – with 44 Prohibition Notices served requiring dangerous practices to stop with immediate effect, 12 Improvement Notices served requiring safety improvements to be made and 63 Notifications of Contravention served identifying material breaches. In a similar inspection drive last year the overall enforcement rate across 107 sites was one in three, or 36 per cent.

    On two projects conditions were so dangerous that inspectors were forced to close the sites. Inspectors dealt with serious risks of falling from height and unshored excavations. Inadequate welfare provision accounted for half of the Improvement Notices.

    Technically challenging with substantial risks

    HSE describe domestic basement projects are technically-challenging and carry substantial risks. Common issues found during the inspections were:

    • Work not properly planned;
    • Failure to appoint a competent temporary works engineer;
    • Poor or absent welfare facilities for workers;
    • Basic precautions missing e.g. regarding falls from height, especially into excavations; and
    • Unguarded conveyor belts.

    The Association of Specialist Underpinning Contractors (ASUC) has published guidelines to improve the safety and efficiency of underpinning and mini piling construction and to reduce negative impact on others.

    The objective is “to enable clients, designers, engineers and others involved in underpinning and mini piling works projects to instruct safe and efficient work”.

    Complacency towards health and safety

    James Hickman, lead HSE Inspector for the Construction Division in the City and South West London, said:

    “These enforcement figures reflect the rapidly-increasing number of companies entering the basement industry to meet the current high demand for basement living space in London. Those new to basement construction work are often unaware of the risks associated with the technically challenging nature of the work or of the standards required to ensure the safety of their workforce.

    The overall picture is similar to other targeted inspections of basement work in London where we 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 is only partly the case.

    As well as serious safety contraventions, we also found examples of better standards, often at sites managed by companies who are known to HSE, some 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 with contractors new to the basement industry.”

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