Construction company ignore structural engineers resulting in bad fall


Surrey-based Landmark Groundworks have just been heavily fined in court because they ignored the design proposals of two structural engineers: if they had followed their guidance, it is likely that the project would have been carried out safely. As it was, worker Mr. Bola Akinola, 48, fell a distance of more than four metres when steelwork that should have been supporting concrete floor planks failed. This caused a collapse. The accident happened at a refurbishment site in Westerham, Kent on 9 May 2009. (It is hoped that such cases will come to court a lot faster in future if the Government have their way).

In the incident, nine tonnes of steel and concrete fell into a basement. There has of course been a huge new trend towards adding value to existing period properties by digging out new underground space underneath the main house or garden. In this case the company was responsible for creating a large new basement alongside an empty house that was being refurbished and extended in this way.

Mr Akinola was employed as a plank installer by a subcontractor. He had laid around 50 two-tonne concrete floor planks to create the new ground floor. However, four of these planks had been laid on a supporting beam that had not been fixed at one end: and was at the other end only held in place with small welds. As a result of this, the beam tilted and gave way with workers still standing on the planks over it.

Another worker luckily managed to jump to safety but Mr Akinola fell four metres into the basement along with the collapsing steel and three of the floor planks. Clearly this could have been fatal to him. He was in hospital for several weeks. His injuries were life-changing and included multiple fractures to pelvis, leg and arm. He has still not regained full mobility in his left arm, and was unable to work for nearly a year afterwards.

The inspectors who carried out the subsequent HSE investigation concluded that Landmark Groundworks, who were specialists in erecting supporting steelwork, and who operate across the South East region, failed to properly carry out their responsibilities to oversee the project and provide the established procedures established for construction health and safety.

In particular, the firm did not carry out checks on the installation to ensure it was ready to bear the load. In court, it was described as a “botched design”, and it was stated that no checks had been carried out on either the construction design or its installation.

As main contractor, Landmark should have been actively managing the construction process and its execution by subcontractors, making sure that they get the correct information (such as the engineers’ reports) and use it properly. They bore the primary responsibility when things went wrong, and thus it was that after a nine-day trial at Maidstone Crown Court the company was fined £110,000 plus £50,000 in prosecution costs for breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Whenever things go badly wrong, it is tempting to think, ‘if only I had taken professional advice’. Hindsight is always 20/20 but if cases like this teach us anything, it is that a good health and safety consultant can be worth his weight in gold. Call on McCormack Benson Health & Safety and your chances of avoiding disastrous occurrences will be reduced.