Shockingly unsafe practices on building conversion site


There are plenty of safe and inexpensive ways of creating chutes or other systems for evacuating debris from construction works. This is a staple of buildings health & safety.

Yet here is a case where terribly bad practices were allowed to go on, in a dangerous and unprofessional manner.

It took an anonymous complaint for action to be taken by the HSE, whose inspectors then made an unannounced visit to the former Grampian Hotel in Carmelite Street, Aberdeenon on the 23rd June 2010.

MK Builders (North East) Ltd was the principal contractor and thus had primary responsibility for the site. They were converting the building into 30 apartments.

When the inspectors opened a door at the rear of the building they saw that workers were simply dropping debris through the inside of it, from the third floor right down to the ground level.

Holes in floors for debris

Timber was piled up below a hole in the ground floor ceiling, and there was no warning notice on the door. One worker was gathering debris up on the third floor and he dropped it through the hole in the floor. Similar holes had been made in the floor at each storey to allow the debris to fall, creating a risk of falling at each level: the open edges were all unprotected and could have resulted in falls of three to 10 metres.

A door that was shown as a fire exit was blocked by the waste that had been dropped. This door was also used to reach the outside portable toilet: the only measure taken was that workers would shout up when they needed to walk through this area!

The worker on the third floor did carry a fall arrest harness. HSE regards this as the last line of defence against fall risks, but they do not consider it to be a sufficient protection by itself.

The inspectors served two Prohibition Notices to stop any work near the open floor holes until fall prevention measures had been instituted, and to stop the debris from being thrown through the holes so that other workers would not be struck below.

As one inspector commented, there are several simple safety precautions that MK Builders could have taken, including:

  • a scaffold structure
  • properly-fixed guard rails
  • an enclosed debris chute to dispose of debris

These measures would have reduced the obvious risks significantly.

This case should serve as a warning to companies that HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action when workers are unnecessarily put at risk.

Long wait for court hearing

One wonders why this apparently simple case, not involving an actual accident but being preventative in nature, has taken over 2 ½ years to come to court. It may have to do with the way in which health and safety criminal prosecution in Scotland is not undertaken by the HSE but is passed on by them to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. It would surely serve the cause of improving safety standards better if such cases could be streamlined so as to reach a conclusion much more quickly.

Eventually, MK Builders (North East) Limited, of Gainford House, Picktree Lane, Chester-le-Street, was fined £4,000 at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 28th March for two separate breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. To quote the Regulation 6(3): “Where work is carried out at height, every employer shall take suitable and sufficient measures to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any person falling a distance liable to cause personal injury.” Regulation 10 (1) says the same but in relation to “the fall of any material or object.”

It may seem a simple matter to correct such bad practice but in reality it is all too common. If you feel that your team is overwhelmed and cannot cope, then seek assistance from the experienced and helpful consultants in the McCormack Benson Health & Safety team. Their practical, hands-on approach will rapidly put bad practices to right and will actually save you money as well as making your sites safe and legal.