Scaffolders ignore construction safety rules – public put at risk


It seems that scaffolding has suddenly become more dangerous than before, due to a spate of publicised accidents and infractions of the law: but in reality it is the (bad) luck of the draw as to when cases come to court and reach the public eye. As we have mentioned before in these columns, it can take years in some cases for incidents to be dealt with through the investigation and judicial processes. This is a shame as one of the key outcomes of such trials is to influence policy and to encourage building safety practitioners to raise their game by learning from the lessons of each case.

In this case, fortunately no-one was injured, no thanks to those involved, which probably accounts for it being dealt with relatively rapidly (by Court standards) – the offence dates from September 2012.

City Centre working

The case involves Darren Baker Scaffolding Ltd. of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. This scaffolding contractor was engaged to erect two scaffold structures around the frontage of a Debenhams department store in George Street and Magdalen Street, in the busy heart of Oxford. The work took place on a Sunday morning, but with 7-day trading it was still busy and there were plenty of pedestrians adjacent to the work.

As in nearly all city centres, CCTV was there to capture what went on, and it was used in evidence against the firm. What most alarmed passers by on the day, and the HSE inspectors who viewed the footage, was the way in which scaffolders tossed metal fittings and hoisted the poles from the supply lorry to each other – directly above members of the public and vehicles driving by (see picture).

Pedestrians were also obliged to walk into the road with no segregation or protection from traffic, because no prior planning had gone on to create a safe walkway.

With these failings, it is fortunate that nobody was hurt. Clearly the fact that work was being done in a sensitive and potentially dangerous public place had not been factored into the plans of the firm.

Lack of design

What made matters even worse was that the actual scaffolding was deficient and was found (when inspected by the HSE) to be unstable, and there was a danger of collapse. The specific failings were:

  1. There was no approved, safe, design
  2. The bracing and tying of the scaffold was not sufficient
  3. The structure could potentially become overloaded at specific points, which did not allow for the weight to be absorbed at the base

Oxford Magistrates’ Court fined the contractor £10,000 and costs of £706 for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act (concerning the safety of employees) as well as 4 breaches of the Work at Height Regulations. The specific provisions of these relate to the rigidity and strength of working platforms, and the need for approved designs and strength and stability calculations.

Clearly if you hire a specialist scaffolding firm you should expect that they will carry out the required design, planning and preparation. In this case none of these requirements were met. It is always worth checking that firms belong to the industry association and meet their standards.

Meanwhile principal contractors, who bear the ultimate responsibility for what goes on during a construction or renovation project, are well advised to avoid such lapses by seeking professional safety assistance from the consultants of McCormack Benson Health & Safety, the building safety specialists.