Public put at risk by dangerous scaffolding


Scaffolding has very much been in the spotlight in building health and safety terms recently, especially with the series of rolling regional ‘crackdowns’ by HSE on working at height infringements. The reason this particular case stands out from others is that it clearly endangered the public as well as workers, as it involved at least one dangerous High Street site.

It also named two Oxfordshire sites where the same contractor was found wanting by visiting HSE Inspectors. In particular, the scaffolding was deficient due to -

  • missing ties
  • a lack of ledger bracing
  • no vehicle impact protection

The first two issues meant that the structures were insufficiently rigid. The third obviously presented a severe risk because at the first site in question, a shop refurbishment in Wantage, it was in a narrow street and it could at any time have been hit by traffic thus causing the scaffold to topple over.

Oxfordshire County Council had granted a street licence for the scaffolding and they were involved by HSE in the actions that followed, because the actual structure was not compliant with the licence.

This was in July 2012. ASW Scaffolding Limited, the firm involved, did later remedy the scaffolding to HSE’s satisfaction.

Double failings by one contractor

However it appears that the lessons were not learned because an Inspector happened to see another ASW Scaffolding structure, in Banbury Road Oxford, in March 2013. This was under construction but nevertheless a worker was being allowed to use it, despite the lack of guard rails or any other safety measures. The Inspector served a Prohibition Notice on the firm to stop any work being done while using the incomplete scaffold.

What made it worse still was that seemingly a senior manager was on site on the day in question but he did nothing to prevent the unsafe work.

As a specialist firm in this type of work, the company had little defence against such lapses and unsurprisingly it pleaded guilty and was fined at Oxford Magistrates’ Court, the sum of £15,000 plus £5,438 of prosecution costs, having breached the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

The HSE commented that the Wantage faults should have been immediately obvious from a simple check. That as a minimum is needed, to make sure that everything is correctly in place and constructed correctly.

The Wantage scaffold (shown here) was not sufficiently rigid and if hit by a passing vehicle, workers and the public would have been endangered.

As for the Oxford case, here the scaffolding was being used when incomplete and thus did not meet at all the minimum requirements for working at height that are established within the construction safety legislation. Any competent health & safety consultant would have advised against its use until it was finished with all the necessary protection for operators.

If you want a short guide to working safely at height, you can find one at