Dangerous arch collapses during renovation


Sometimes the best-laid plans of people working at a site are insufficient to prevent a breach of construction safety, and a dangerous incident results. This is one such case.

An old toffee factory in Ouseburn, Newcastle, was being refurbished on the day in question, 15 February 2011. Those ultimately responsible were the designers, Cundall Johnston and Partners LLP of Newcastle; and principal contractor Brims Construction Ltd from Sunderland.

What went wrong?

‘Pockets’ had been dug into the building’s masonry to hold steel beams. This weakened one of the brick pillars adjoining an archway. The pillar had formed a supporting buttress but the removal of masonry weakened the arch structure.

The Brims Construction site foreman was alerted to the dangerous condition of the arch and so he told two joiners to shore it up.

Between themselves they devised a plan of work. Crucially, this plan was not reviewed by Brims managers or supervisors to satisfy themselves that it was a safe method of working, before they started.

The result was that as they were working, the brickwork archway collapsed onto the two men, fracturing one man’s foot and injuring the other’s back.

Given that the arch structure weighed around two tonnes, the outcome could have been considerably worse.

Surely this possible issue should have been built into the design as a safety issue, and been covered under the watchful eye of the CDM Coordinator? That is not mentioned in the official report. It is however clear that there were detailed designs but it seems that Cundall Johnston and Partners failed to communicate effectively with those actually responsible on site and alert them to the potential for instability if they removed the masonry when dealing with the offending archway.

In addition to the culpability of the designers, there was the failure of contractors Brims Construction to properly assess the risks, plan the works accordingly or to manage the staff involved.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an investigation into this collapse and they uncovered the above health and safety issues.

The result was that at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court, Brims Construction Ltd of Austin Boulevard, Quay West Business Park, Sunderland, was fined £1,000 and had to pay £5,000 of prosecution costs. They had pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007.

The design company, Cundall Johnston and Partners LLP, of Horsley House, Regent Centre, Gosforth,Newcastle, likewise pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11(6)(c) of the same legislation. The company was fined £1,000 but this was dwarfed by the costs of £7,000.

This case luckily avoided major injuries but it could easily have been a more tragic story. Wherever there is a chain of command and a series of companies and work teams, there is the risk of lapses in communication. That is what the CDM legislation is designed to counter. If you want to have an efficient and effective CDM Co-ordinator at the heart of your project, call McCormack Benson Health & Safety – they will supply you with one of their trained and experienced professionals.