Principal Contractor blamed for platform collapse


In construction safety terms, it is not just the letter of the health and safety regulations that matter, but how they are put into practice. Here is a case where they were not.

St George South London Ltd (SGSL), a well-known principal contractor and development company in London, has been held responsible for the failings of its sub-contractors. At its big St George Wharf site in Vauxhall, on 10th February 2009, an accident occurred that caused serious injury to a worker.

Local Hammersmith-based man Noel Doyle, then 32, was one of three men standing on a temporary platform, which collapsed – the other two were lucky enough to jump to safety but Mr Doyle fell 10 metres onto a concrete staircase.

The workers were constructing a stairwell inside a concrete shaft. They were raising the temporary work platform from one floor to the next (using a crane with four chains). The procedure would have been for the platform to be locked into place so that they could construct the next level of the staircase.

However, when it had risen from the fourth to the fifth floor, the crane operator was wrongly told by the foreman (who was one of the three men on the platform) to remove the chains while one was still attached. This caused the platform to be lifted by just one corner, and it fell apart.

Worker falls and is showered with debris

Bits of the platform, as well as equipment that had been stored on it, fell on top of the unfortunate Mr Doyle. His injuries included broken vertebrae, a fractured pelvis and ribs, a shattered right elbow (which leaves him now with limited right arm movement) and internal damage. He can no longer work in the construction industry.

The subsequent investigation by HSE found that the principal contractor had –

  • failed to properly plan and manage the construction work to avoid safety risks
  • not ensured that subcontractors had developed, and more importantly implemented, safe systems of work in their management and use of temporary works

St George South London Ltd received a fine at Southwark Crown Court of £50,000, plus £27,386 in costs. It had pleaded guilty to breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

The Inspector responsible for the case stressed that risk assessments and method statements are only a first step – principal contractors need to carry out more than simple hazard spotting inspections. They also must check that the documents provided to them do make sense and that they truly address the risks innate in the work being done.

St George South London was found to have been more interested in the existence of safety documents, not what the substance of them was. Regular site safety inspections were carried out but were superficial, and so some significant systemic failings were overlooked.

Reinforced concrete subcontractor J Reddington Ltd did not escape censure. It had already been fined £70,000 plus £22,193 at Southwark Crown Court on 28 June 2013.

The conclusion for any principal or sub-contractor is that it is not worth risking the lives of workers and causing subsequent legal problems – far better to forestall problems by engaging the reasonably-priced services of proper hands-on building safety consultants from McCormack Benson Health & Safety.