Local Council guilty of safety faults
Normally we find ourselves reporting on cases where the HSE has taken independent principal contractors to task, and ultimately to court, for breaching the construction safety regulations. Even then, many building health & safety professionals believe that the guilty ‘cheapskate’ firms are not brought to heel often enough.
Yet in this case we find a local council being prosecuted for an infrastructure safety lapse, which just shows that although the public sector is often quick to demand extensive (and expensive) compliance from its subcontractors as part of its tendering processes, the authorities are not always blameless within their own organisation.
This case concerns Powys County Council in Wales. Its Public Services depot in Abercraf, Ystradgynlais contains big 2 ½ tonne concrete barriers among its itinerary.
Some workers there were instructed (on 12th June 2012) to move these 3 metre-long barriers, and place them on wooden bearers. They used a telehandler. However, after one of these barriers had been laid in place it fell off its support and as it hit the ground it crushed the left leg of Mr Dean Colamazza, one of the work team. He spent 5 weeks at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, where his broken knee cap and 3 leg fractures were treated. Fortunately he has recovered enough to go back to work with Powys County Council.
What went wrong
The Council could have avoided this event if there had been some joined-up management of the work. The salient points were:
- Powys County Council had the right lifting equipment
- It was stored at a contractor’s depot
- The in-house council team did not know this
- No-one in the gang carrying out this lifting was trained in such work
- The Council’s managers and supervisors failed to do a risk assessment
- The system used was inherently unsafe
It is sad and ironic that had the independent contractor been used, the work would have probably been more safely carried out than it was under public control. As it was, there was not a method statement to set up a safe system of working.
At Llandrindod Wells Magistrates’ Court the Council received a fine of £24,000 and £13,528 of HSE prosecution costs. Of course when public money is being spent it is not really a deterrent to future lapses, but one must hope that the lesson was learned.
Although this was not strictly a construction case, nevertheless the processes involved are common to building sites – and waste management as well as public services are both areas that many builders must deal with.
For this reason, it is a good idea to refresh oneself with the rules at these sub-sites:
And for a safe pair of hands, it is a good investment to use the independent services of a McCormack Benson Health & Safety consultant, who can spot problematic issues and prevent them from developing into dangerous safety lapses like this one.