Building redevelopment narrowly misses causing fatalities


An old two-storey industrial building, Steetley Chambers in Sheffield, was being demolished prior to redevelopment, but the work was not properly planned. As a result one end collapsed and shop workers next door were nearly buried in the rubble.

Matters were even worse because Mr Ghulam Rasul, the developer, had been served an Enforcement Notice in April 2008 to stop the demolition because of the factory’s potential instability.

Nevertheless, he re-started his demolition work on the site in late 2010. This had the effect of further weakening the structure and potentially causing a collapse. Eventually, on February 4th 2011, the gable end did give way. The result was that some ten tonnes of brick and rubble fell through the roof of the adjacent, and occupied, fishing tackle shop, narrowly missing its two workers.

The HSE investigators told Sheffield Magistrates that the developer put anyone in the community who came near the building at serous risk of injury.

After the accident, South Yorkshire Police closed the road, worried that the rest of the building might easily fall across the road and pedestrian pavement.

Sheffield City Council despatched a team from their dangerous structures unit who organised a secure demolition of the remainder of the building.

Fine for lack of planning and ignoring HSE Notice

Mr Rasul, of Balfour Road, Sheffield, pleaded guilty under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and for the breach of a Prohibition Notice. He received a fine of £6,000 plus £2,418 in prosecution costs.

Inspector Dave Bradley of the Construction Division of HSE, was amazed that there had not been serious or fatal casualties. He commented:

This was an extremely serious incident with the potential to kill several people in the shop as well as pedestrians and people in cars on Effingham Road at the time. The fact that no one was injured was pure good fortune. It was an entirely avoidable incident.

Plan the Project in advance

The lesson for anyone contemplating a demolition is that a qualified engineer must be engaged at the outset and involved in the whole project. A CDM Coordinator is also needed to ensure that health and safety is designed into the scheme and that everyone knows their safety responsibilities within the project.

In this case, temporary supports needed to be created to guard against premature structural collapse.

To quote the regulations, ‘all practicable steps shall be taken, where necessary to prevent danger to any person, to ensure that any new or existing structure or any part of such structure which may become unstable or in a temporary state of weakness or instability due to the carrying out of construction work does not collapse.’

As the Inspector in this case rightly said, “Demolition is a high-risk activity that needs to be carefully planned – from start to finish – to ensure it doesn’t result in the uncontrolled collapse of a building or parts of it. The controls needed are well known in the industry and the costs involved are not prohibitively expensive when balanced against the risks.”