Repeat-offending Contractor is fined for unsafe practices


In these columns we frequently report individual failings and misdemeanours on the part of building firms. However this recent court case is exceptional in that it results from not one, but no less than eight Prohibition Notices and one Improvement Notice that had been served by HSE Inspectors and yet were continually ignored.

In this case Kent-based construction company Unicorn Services Limited was charged due to unsafe working practices which continued, despite all the warnings, at their site where 4-storey block of flats were being built at Sylvan Hill, Upper Norwood, Croydon.
On 26th September, 2011 eight Prohibition Notices were served to try and stop dangerous site practices at the site, where safety breaches were found.
The Notices covered -

  • Unsafe working at height
  • dangerous electrical equipment
  • dangerous scaffolding
  • fire-related hazards

HSE also found that the documents covering risk assessments and project management supplied by Unicorn Services were “appallingly inadequate”.

On a follow-up site visit in October 2011 the Inspectors were dismayed to find little or no improvement had been made to many of the malpractice areas. So later they served Unicorn an Improvement Notice whereby the site manager had to arrange adequate training in order to safely manage construction operations. Now would have been an ideal time for him to call in a Health and Safety Consultant to belatedly help him out of the mess. Sadly, however, the manager did not meet the HSE’s late November compliance date, which is a cardinal sin.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court found Unicorn guilty of breaching Regulation 26(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined £20,000 and also had to pay £5,940 of the prosecution’s costs.

The HSE Inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers commented:

“Unicorn Services Limited blatantly ignored enforcement notices and continued to neglect its duty of care to its workforce, most of whom were vulnerable migrant workers. The construction site at Sylvan Hill was a potential death trap, with scant regard for safety or employee welfare. Even though there were no reported incidents at the site, serious safety breaches were routinely committed that could have resulted in death or serious injury. The work was underpinned by poor management and appallingly inadequate paperwork – total recklessness according to the court. General standards fell well below those expected of a competent principal contractor, which the Health and Safety Executive will simply not tolerate.”

Most of us would look to sharpen up our practices after one Prohibition Notice. Even at that stage there is probably enough concern about the state of construction safety on-site to justify calling in a Health & Safety Consultant. If you get still more, and then an Enforcement Notice, it is an absolute must: management have obviously not got the site systems and procedures under control.

In a CDM project, such as this one, matters should never have got to this stage: a qualified CDM Coordinator, such as those available from McCormack Benson Health & Safety, would have ensured that safety was built into the design process and the required practices communicated to all contractors. A watching brief would have been kept on the build to make sure that these sorts of abuses do not happen.

To quote Regulation 26(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007: “Every place of work shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, be made and kept safe for, and without risks to health to, any person at work there.”