Demolition building safety breach causes injury


The lack of new building projects in many parts of the country has led to an increasing focus on renovation and refurbishment contracts. These inevitably bring with them the need to demolish some existing structures, and that work brings with it a range of added risks. These must be managed at least as closely as the new build process, and the CDM Coordinator must ensure that they are given the proper attention in the initial design and in the subsequent works when they are carried out: because in demolition you never know what you are going to encounter until you are under way, and risk assessments and method statements must evolve as you go along.

Here is a case where the necessary systems and adaptations were not put in place. Lawrie [Demolition] Ltd had a contract to demolish some redundant offices and warehousing at the former Craig Group Buildings in Aberdeen’s harbour.

On 16th July 2009, some of Lawrie’s workers, including Valentin Taljanov (61), had to move old roofing materials from a platform onto the ground. Above them at roof level hung a big section of cast iron guttering, which had been left to hang there largely unsupported for 2 days. It suddenly gave way and crashed down on Mr Talianov, who fortunately was wearing PPE, and his hard hat saved him from death or even more serious injury.

As it was, his right arm was broken by the guttering, along with seven ribs, and a vertebra.  The iron also punctured his lung and he suffered a cut to the head.

The firm responsible is owned by Leiths Group, a large concern with operations including quarrying, road surfacing and plant hire across NE Scotland. This therefore is not a case of a small demolition operation, but is one where systems should be in place and being observed. In fact, it was shown in court that Lawrie [Demolition] Ltd did not have an appropriate system for identifying the hazards that might be expected to become clear as the works developed. The company also did not adequately plan and implement exclusion zones where no workers could enter and material could be allowed to fall safely.

In particular the Inspector criticised the management because there were two supervisors on the site at the time, and managers made regular site visits. The guttering could have been taken down all at once in a planned operation, and should never have been left hanging: it was stated in court that it was surprising that it did not fall earlier.
In Scotland, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shares responsibility for investigations with the Crown Office Health and Safety Division because the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is solely responsible for taking criminal proceedings in heath and safety cases. It is not clear from the official report why it has taken 4 ½ years to bring this matter to Peterhead Sheriff Court.

At the court, Lawrie [Demolition] Limited pleaded guilty to a breach of The Construction [Design and Management] Regulations 2007*. It received a fine of £40,000.

As the inspector commented, it is necessary to conduct regular risk reviews to maintain site safety. If other firms want to avoid the same problems as have been suffered by this one, as well as protecting their workforce, then by using the services of a specialist firm of construction safety consultants like McCormack Benson Health & Safety they can gain a valuable resource which will in many cases pay back its reasonable costs by making its operations more efficient and risk-free.

*Regulation 29 of The Construction [Design and Management] Regulations 2007 states that danger that arises from demolition work should be reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.