We all know that you can’t control the weather and whilst that much is true, there are instances where extreme weather conditions can still lead to Health and Safety breaches.
This was highlighted in a tragic case which resulted in the death of Tahnie Martin, 29, in 2017. The incident occurred during Storm Doris, a severe storm that hit the UK on 23 February 2017 causing winds of up to 94mph, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power and causing widespread travel disruption. Ms Martin was struck by part of a wooden water tank cover, which showed signs of decay and neglect, which fell six storeys from the roof of a shopping centre during the storm.
The building management company were prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 s3(1) and 33(1)(a) for their failure to maintain the exterior of the building such as to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
s3.— General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees.
(1) It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.
s33 – Offences (1)It is an offence for a person— (a) to fail to discharge a duty to which he is subject by virtue of sections 2 to 7;
This was not the only such incident which occurred with the BBC reporting that 2 other people were also seriously injured after being struck by debris falling from roofs during Storm Doris.
A similar incident occurred in 2014 when a wall and hoarding collapsed during a storm and severely injured a man, 45, in front of his wife and children. The land and property arm of the Greater London Authority (GLAP) employed a Company to manage and maintain the site. However, the HSE investigation found that they failed to oversee the contract properly, resulting in the wall not being maintained and a crack developing. Again, in this case the charge was a breach of s3(1) of the 1974 Act to which GLAP plead guilty. At the hearing in 2019, they were fined a total of £250,000 and ordered to pay £14,653 in costs.
In the aftermath of the hearing, HSE inspector Ian Shearring said: “A set of simple arrangements to inspect and maintain the wall would have picked up on the imminent danger to any passer-by. Instead, a whole family was traumatised by seeing the father sustaining serious injuries from being struck by hoarding as it collapsed. It was only a matter of luck that no one was killed on the day outside a busy station.”
The key takeaway points from these cases are that regular inspection and maintenance is key to ensure that buildings are in a condition to withstand adverse weather conditions. Delegating maintenance of a site to a 3rd party via a contract may not be sufficient and supervision is still required.
Guidance on health and safety management systems can be found on the HSE website.
Design codes for buildings and structures are also provided on the HSE website in respect of the structural design of buildings to withstand natural events. Design codes provide advice for Building when considering extreme weather and advice on design for wind loadings and imposed roof loads.