Public blow the whistle on unsafe contractors


In these columns we often report on construction safety problem cases where a Health and Safety Executive Inspector visits a site and uncovers wrongdoing. This case is more unusual in that a member of the public was shocked by the sight of demolition contractors using totally unsafe practices, and took a picture and forwarded it to the authorities. The photograph showed the workers on the roof of the Ball Tree Inn on Busticle Lane, Sompting, near Lancing, Sussex. They were demolishing the pub at the time, over the period from 12th to 21st September 2011. The incriminating photo showed that, as they removed roof tiles, no provisions at all had been put in place to stop them falling off. One worker could even be seen standing in the bucket of the excavator that was being driven at the time by a director of the firm involved, Colin Bell.

Incriminating Evidence

Normally such cases can take years to come to court, but presumably the clear independent photographic evidence made it far quicker and easier to bring the action, which was brought as usual by the HSE and which was heard in July at Worthing Magistrates’ Court. The firm, Rabbit Demolition and Excavation Ltd as well as director Colin Bell were both found by the magistrates not to have supplied workers with enough safety measures. It must have been difficult to argue that the workers had failed in their duties when the director was himself directly involved. The HSE inspectors had made their usual investigations after seeing the photo, and concluded that Rabbit Demolition’s workers had not been given adequate safety precautions. They pointed out that the company could have erected scaffolding to protect the workers from falling, in line with health and safety best practice. Rabbit Demolition and Excavation Ltd, of Unit 2,Chartwell Road, Lancing,West Sussex, pleaded guilty and was given fines totalling £2,000 but also a greater sum of £4,500 of prosecution costs due to breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, section 25(1). Colin Bell, of Edgehill Way, Portslade,Brighton, (director of Rabbit Demolition and Excavation Ltd), also individually pleaded guilty to the same breaches. He was fined £500 and was ordered to pay £500 in HSE prosecution costs. The first moral of the story, apart of course from the obvious need to protect one’s workforce, is that you can never hide your failings – in these days of smartphones and tablets, more and more people have a camera handy and they could be snapping you when at work. Be sure that if you cut corners, you will be seen and may be recorded. The second moral is that harassed and overstretched building trades managers need help to assess their health and safety requirements. By calling in McCormack Benson Health & Safety they can rely on experienced safety consultants to point out problems and practices that will lead to trouble if not addressed. It is a small investment, without any contractual constraints, that will pay itself back handsomely.