Traditional building system targeted by HSE


Of the many cases that we record that involve official action being taken against contractors, this is an unusual one. A centuries-old building material is partly blamed for a new prosecution against a building company.

T Richard Jones (Betws) Ltd of Ammanford received a fine due to failings in its operation at St Michael’s Church, Manselton,Swansea.

On 10 August 2011, HSE inspected the site. On asking for the Site Manager, they were told that he was away on holiday. This was the first shortcoming, because it is considered that sites must always be managed so as to control operating risks.

Lime mortar singled out

More unusually, the historic building was being worked on using the traditional lime mortar that matched the original. The official line on this from the HSE is that the ‘use of lime mortar creates a serious risk to health and can lead to the loss of sight, skin burns or dermatitis’. This is perhaps an excessive claim. Modern cements, with or without chemical additives, are also very hazardous materials and it is wrong to single out lime mortar in this way. Mixing lime mortar with inflexible modern products is also very bad practice and should not be encouraged.

PPE the real issue?

The HSE goes on to explain that the workers failed to don protective gloves or eyeglasses: and washing facilities for cleaning themselves were inadequate. This is the real point. PPE must always be worn when dealing with mortars and renders, of whatever kind, and inadvertent splashing by these materials need to be washed off thoroughly.

Another problem was the all-too-common one of working at height without protection against falls. Two workers were at risk in this way.

In addition there were two employees working at height without measures in place to prevent injury caused by a fall.
A subsequent investigation by the HSE concluded the company had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. Other construction firms should note that cases like this will soon be subject to HSE charging them for their ‘interventions’ when they fall short of the mark.

The HSE inspector in this case, Phil Nicolle, commented:

This company put the safety of its own workforce at risk by failing to ensure the site was managed by a competent person, and the catalogue of failings suggested a lack of regard for workers’ health, safety or welfare. Construction companies have a duty to ensure that their sites are operated in a safe way. Putting these matters right was neither expensive nor technically difficult.

It is hard to argue with this assessment, on the basis of the evidence presented. It is also fair to say that if proper hands-on health and safety consultants had been engaged by the contractor, the evident lapses in good practice could have been highlighted and corrected.

At Swansea Magistrates’ Court, T Richard Jones (Betws) Ltd of Foundry Road, Ammanford pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The fine was £2,000 and there were additional prosecution costs of £3,658.

If you want to avoid the same fate, contact McCormack Benson Health & Safety for a free consultation on your construction safety issues.