Almost Half of Local Basement Digs Fail Safety Checks

Inspectors take action against dangerous projects across H&F

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Almost half of domestic basement projects across three London boroughs, including Hammersmith and Fulham failed unannounced safety checks during a two-day initiative in March.

The inspection undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive, or HSE saw a team of inspectors visit 127 sites across Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and parts of Westminster.

Enforcement action was taken at 62 of those 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.

The inspections followed the death in 2010 of 37 year-old Anghel Milosavlevici, who was crushed to death while working on a basement excavation in Ellerby Street in Fulham.

Mr Milosavlevici was employed by Siday Construction Ltd to work on a renovation at a residential Victorian property.

However the excavations were not properly supported and they collapsed, crushing and trapping him. The emergency services were called but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Last December Richard Golding, a qualified health and safety advisor employed by AllDay Safety Services to provide health and safety advice to Siday Construction was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for nine months.

The HSE say this tragedy is one of 17 deaths caused by an excavation collapsing over the last ten years, while 27 people have been seriously injured.

In the latest inspections, the enforcement rate has risen sharply. In a similar inspection drive last year the overall enforcement rate across 107 sites was one in three, or 36%.

At two projects, conditions were so dangerous that inspectors were forced to close the sites. More than two thirds of the Prohibition Notices served dealt with the risk of workers falling from height, either into unguarded excavations or through unprotected floor openings, as well as unshored excavations. Inadequate welfare provision accounted for half of the Improvement Notices.

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."

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 to design suitable propping to support excavations and existing structures
• Poor or absent welfare facilities for workers
• Basic precautions missing, such as edge protection to prevent falls from height, especially into excavations
• Unguarded conveyor belts

 

April 8, 2015