Figures from the HSE’s Health and safety at work: summary statistics for Great Britain 2016 have revealed that work-related ill-health in the construction industry has increased by around 9%, returning to rates last seen in 2008-2009. With the opening of the New Year, we consider some recent construction cases.

Director sentenced to eight months imprisonment after worker receives burns

The director of a construction company has received an eight-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to breaches of section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (the “1974 Act”) and section 4(1) of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (“RIDDOR”).

The director had instructed a worker to stand on top of a skip and pour flammable liquid onto burning waste below. The resulting fireball engulfed the worker, causing severe burns to his arms and legs. The director failed to ensure that first aid was administered or that the individual was taken to hospital, and did not report the incident to the HSE.

Contractors fined £2 million after worker suffers broken leg

Three construction firms were fined a total of £2 million after an unsupported excavation trench collapsed on a worker, inflicting serious leg injuries. The HSE stated that insufficient safety measures had been put in place to protect those working in the trenches. They believed the incident to have been “foreseeable and avoidable”.

The works took place on a Lincolnshire building site. The principal contractor (who was hired by the local Council to install new storm drains at the site) had engaged a second firm, who then further contracted the work to a third firm. Each of the companies failed to ensure that adequate protection was provided in the trench, and failed to address the problems caused by water entering the excavations. The unsupported trench subsequently collapsed.

The principal contractor pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (the “CDM Regulations”) and was fined the largest sum of £1.5 million. The second company denied the charge of breaching section 3(1) of the 1974 Act, but was found guilty and fined £550,000. The third company, which had been responsible for supervising and carrying out the work, pleaded guilty under section 3(1) of the 1974 Act and was fined £40,500.

Stairwell collapse leads to £1 million fine for construction firms

Three companies have been convicted of breaching the CDM Regulations after one worker was killed and two others seriously injured on their site. The workers had been standing on a temporary wooden platform when it gave way beneath them. Despite being crucial to the safety of the tradesmen operating on the 9th storey construction, it was later discovered that the platforms had not been built to an agreed safe design and their suitability had not been reviewed.

The first company, a subsidiary of the UK’s fourth largest housebuilder, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the CDM Regulations and was fined £600,000. The second company, which constructed the failed platform, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(2) of the CDM Regulations and was handed a £400,000 fine. The third company, a site agent which assisted in managing the work, was found guilty of breaching Regulations 13(2) and 28(2) of the CDM Regulations and was fined £20,000.

Construction firm fined £16,000 over carbon monoxide and dust risk

A construction firm has been fined £16,000 after failing to address the risks posed by the use of a petrol saw in an un-ventilated tent. Company workers had been using the saw to cut through a concrete floor at a factory. Concerned about dust resting on the surfaces, they constructed a sealed enclosure from timber and polythene. The resulting build-up of carbon monoxide and harmful dust left one worker hospitalised. The court found that the firm had failed to plan the work and consider the dangers involved.

Comment

The HSE’s Health and safety at work: summary statistics for Great Britain 2016 named the construction industry as one of several industries with “ill-health rates significantly higher than the rate for all industries”. However, it may be that recent proposals to create a new, digital occupational health plan for the sector may go some way to addressing these figures. A not-for-profit life and health insurance provider pitched the new occupational health strategy and “digital portable record” to a Health in Construction Leadership Group in January. Should this be developed and adopted, the impact on ill-health rates will be interesting to observe.