Court hears fire exit was blocked by rubble during HSE inspection

Contractor fined after anonymous tip-off

AN English construction firm has been fined for dangerous practices on an Aberdeen building site.

Health and Safety Executive inspectors acting on an anonymous complaint made an unannounced visit in June 2010 to the former Grampian Hotel site in Carmelite Street where

 work was underway to convert the building into a 30-flat development. The principal contractor was County Durham company MK Builders (North East) Ltd which had over-all responsibility for the site.
Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard that when they arrived the inspectors opened a door at the rear of the building and found debris was being dropped through the internal structure from the third floor to the ground. 

Timber was piled up below a hole in the ceiling and there was nothing on the door to warn of the potential dangers inside. 

HSE established that a worker had been gathering debris on the third floor and depositing it through the hole in the floor. Similar holes had been left in the floor at each level to allow the debris to fall, and all presented a fall risk because of unprotected open edges leading to falls of between three and 10 metres. 

The court was told the worker on the third floor was carrying a fall arrest harness, which is generally used as the last line of defence to reduce the risks of falling, but is not considered sufficient protection on its own.

Inspectors also found that the ground floor area, and in particular a door labelled as a fire exit, were blocked by materials that had been dropped from height. The door was also used to access the portable toilet outside and workers would apparently shout up when walking through this area. 

Two Prohibition Notices were served to stop any further work being carried out near the open flooring until suitable fall prevention measures were in place and to stop debris being thrown through the holes in the floor to prevent others being struck by falling objects.

MK Builders of Chester-le-Street was fined a total of £4,000 after pleading guilty to two separate breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. 

After sentencing, HSE principal inspector John Blackburn said:

 “Falls from height are one of the main causes of fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace, and employers cannot afford to ignore the risks.

“MK Builders (North East) Ltd repeatedly breached health and safety requirements. There were a number of simple measures they could have taken, such as the use of a scaffold structure and properly fixed guard rails, as well as an enclosed debris chute to dispose of materials, all of which would have substantially reduced the risks.”
He added:

“This case should serve as a warning to companies that HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action when workers are unnecessarily put at risk.”
• In the 12 months to April 2012, 49 workers lost their lives on construction sites in the UK, with falls from height the most common cause of fatal injuries.