Construction site safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has successfully undertaken a prosecution following the death of a seven-year-old child over construction site safety.  The civil engineering firm involved has been fined £600K for safety breaches after the child became trapped and suffocated.

The seven-year-old went missing from home on the morning of 26 July 2015 and was found the next morning by workers at the construction site at Bank End Road, Worsborough, in South Yorkshire.

An investigation by the HSE found that the child had become trapped in a drainage pipe, which had been fixed into the ground in preparation for the installation of fencing posts. Tragically, he had suffocated before being found the next morning when work restarted on site.

Howard Civil Engineering Ltd of Leeds pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 13(4)(b) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £600K and ordered to pay £42,952.88 in costs at Sheffield Crown Court.

The construction site was a new-build housing development next to an existing housing estate and adjacent to busy pedestrian footpaths and roads. The HSE investigation found that there was insufficient fencing in place to prevent unauthorised persons from accessing the construction site due to a combination of poor planning, management and monitoring of the site and its perimeter.

construction site safety
HSE photograph

“Conley should never have been able to be on that site. He should have been kept out.  The construction industry should be aware of the dangers of construction sites to members of the public and any other unauthorised persons.

“The dangers to children gaining access to construction sites and treating them like a playground is an ongoing problem which must be addressed at all types of sites no matter what their complexity or size.

“The industry must do all it can to ensure children can’t access construction sites and be exposed to the inherent risks they present to prevent further tragedies like this from occurring.”

HSE inspector Paul Yeadon

Construction site safety is vital as such sites are dangerous work environments but are also interesting places for children.  All construction sites require measures to manage access across defined boundaries; and steps to exclude unauthorised people.

While the numbers of children being killed or injured on construction sites has reduced, there is no room for complacency. Each year, two or three children die after gaining access to building sites, and many more are injured.  Also, members of the public are seriously injured by materials or tools falling outside the site boundary, falling into trenches or being struck by moving plant and vehicles.

Some children are drawn to construction sites as exciting places to play. Those managing construction sites must do everything they can to keep children out of the site and away from danger.  The following specific steps are particularly relevant to child safety:

  • Secure sites adequately when finishing work for the day.
  • Barrier off or cover over excavations and pits.
  • Isolate and immobilise vehicles and plant and if possible, lock them in a compound.
  • Store building materials (such as pipes, manhole rings, and cement bags) so that they cannot topple or roll over.
  • Remove access ladders from excavations and scaffolds.
  • Lock away hazardous substances.

If you require health and safety advice or support for your business, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

HSE inspectors refused entry

HSE inspectors were refused entry to a construction site resulting in a prosecution of the man who was in control of the premises.  The inspectors were denied entry to the construction site in Scotland to deal with unsafe work activities.

In 2021 multiple concerns about unsafe work at a construction site in Irvine had been sent to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  On 16 March 2021, two HSE inspectors attended the construction site and observed unsafe work at height taking place on a steel structure.

The inspectors tried to gain entry to the site, but the gates were locked.  They spoke to the person in control of the site, Baldev Singh Basra, but he refused to unlock the gates and let them in.  Despite explaining the powers to enter a premise given to HSE inspectors as part of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Mr Singh Basra still refused entry to the site.

After officers from Police Scotland attended and gained entry to the site, the HSE inspectors were able to take enforcement action to stop the unsafe work. Two workers were then found to be on the roof of the structure with no safe means of getting down.  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service attended the site and rescued the workers from the structure.

At Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, Baldev Singh Basra of Irvine pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for contravening a requirement of an inspector – namely refusing entry to a premise where unsafe work was taking place. He was fined £1,500.

inspectors refused entry
HSE inspectors have extensive powers to inspect sites for safety offences

Following the sentencing, HSE Principal Inspector Graeme McMinn said: “Inspectors appointed by an enforcing authority have the right to enter any premises which they think it necessary to enter for the purposes of enforcing health and safety at work and any relevant statutory provisions.

“They may only enter at a ‘reasonable time’, unless they think there is a situation which may be dangerous. In this case, the priority of the inspectors was to deal with the unsafe work activity, and they could not allow the person in control of the site to refuse them entry to stop the unsafe work.”

Inspectors appointed by an enforcing authority under section 19 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA), such as the HSE, have extensive powers to carry into effect any of the relevant statutory provisions.  The powers set out in sections 20(2) and 25 HSWA include powers to:

  • Enter any premises which inspectors think it necessary to enter for the purposes of enforcing HSWA and the relevant statutory provisions. They may only enter at a ‘reasonable time’, unless they think there is a situation which may be dangerous.  If they have reasonable cause to apprehend serious obstruction, they may take a police officer;
  • Order areas to be left undisturbed, take measurements, photographs and recordings, take samples and take possession of, and carry out tests on, articles and substances that appear to have caused (or be likely to cause) danger;
  • Require the production of, inspect and take copies of relevant documents;
  • Require anyone they think might give them relevant information to answer questions and sign a declaration of the truth of the answers;
  • Require facilities and assistance to be provided; and
  • Seize and make harmless (by destruction if necessary) any article or substance which they have reasonable cause to believe is a cause of imminent danger of serious personal injury.
HSE education video – When an inspector calls

Inspectors are also given any other power which is necessary for the purpose of carrying into effect the relevant statutory provisions.  It is an offence to obstruct an inspector in the execution of their duties. 

If you require health and safety advice or support for your business, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Building contractor sentenced over unsafe work

A Blackburn based building contractor has been sentenced after unsafe work methods constituted a public risk and resulted in asbestos being disturbed.

Preston Crown Court heard that in November 2020, Mr Mohammed Shafiq, owner of a roller shutter business, purchased a former warehouse in Manner Sutton Street, Blackburn to convert into smaller work units, including one for his own use – Mr Shafiq was using his own employees for this.

A report was received by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from a member of the public, concerned about the fact that bricks from the blocked-up windows were being knocked out from inside onto the street below, causing risk to passers-by.

The HSE investigation found that as well as the risk posed to pedestrians, no edge protection had been installed to prevent the employees from falling. They were also at risk of an internal fall down an open shaft. Additionally, an asbestos survey had not been carried out on the building prior to work commencing.

Building contractor sentenced over unsafe work
Refurbishment projects may require an asbestos survey (stock image)

As a result, piles of disturbed asbestos containing materials (ACMs) such as asbestos cement and insulation, were lying throughout the site. Workers were dry sweeping construction dust and debris possibly containing carcinogenic asbestos dusts without any respiratory protective equipment or suitable personal protective equipment. None of the workers had been provided with any training in asbestos awareness.

Live electric cables were being trailed through water without RCD protection, posing a risk of electric shock, and there was a general lack of training and suitable equipment for work to be carried out in a safe manner. An experienced principal contractor should have been hired to assess risks and undertake refurbishment work in a controlled manner.

The building contractor sentenced over unsafe work was Mohammed Shafiq of Blackburn who pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 5 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Regulation 4 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,636.08

HSE inspector Christine McGlynn said after the hearing:

“The public can be reassured that HSE takes concerns seriously and will not hesitate to investigate thoroughly and prosecute those who put workers and members of the public at risk.’’

Construction projects require detailed planning to ensure that they are carried out safely.  The appointment of a principal contractor to plan and coordinate the construction project will help to ensure activities are done safely.  Workers engaged in construction activities should be competent and have a good understanding of safe working practices.  Where construction involves disturbing the fabric of a building, an assessment is required in respect of asbestos.  Asbestos containing materials may be present in any building which was constructed or refurbished before 2000 and it may be necessary to engage a specialist asbestos contractor to undertake an intrusive survey. 

If you require advice on health and safety in your workplace, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.

Fire Safety Guidance in Construction

Every year many construction site workers are killed or injured because of their work, and many others suffer serious ill health. The hazards are not, however, restricted to people working on sites. Children and other members of the public are also killed or injured because construction activities have not been adequately controlled. The construction industry’s performance has steadily improved, but the rates of death, serious injury and ill health are still among the highest of all industries. Fire safety is a key risk that construction operations need to manage and control.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated its guidance on fire safety in construction HSG168.  The third edition of the guidance was published this month and explains how everyone involved in construction projects can comply with their legal duties relating to fire risks. It is aimed at all those who procure, design, develop and manage construction sites, including clients and designers – it is relevant to all construction projects.

fire safety in construction

The main changes to this guidance relate to elimination, and or, reduction of fire risks at the pre-construction stage as required by the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. The HSE has also added a glossary.

Each year there are estimated to be hundreds of fires on construction sites, potentially putting the lives of workers and members of the public at risk. Fire safety in construction is about eliminating fire risks during the design phase (where practicable), preventing fires from starting and ensuring people’s safety if they do.

This guidance does not reference the findings of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 because the fire did not occur while the building was being renovated or constructed.

The HSG168 guide is available free of charge on the HSE website. If you require advice for your construction project, please contact one of the Ashbrooke team.