Death at Luxury Flats construction


A very high profile construction safety incident has claimed the life of one site worker and injured another. Given that it has thrust building health and safety into the spotlight of media attention, we are not as usual waiting for the inevitable court case, which could take years to be arranged, but are reporting on what is so far known, if only to make others with health and safety responsibilities look very closely at the issues raised and how they can be avoided on their sites.

One picture of the scene (from the Daily Mail) is shown here, with the building under renovation seen on the left. This is London’s most expensive location, Grosvenor Square, home to the US Embassy among others: and the block in question is a former US Navy building, once Eisenhower’s HQ in WW2. It is a traditional 1930s structure which has been vacant since 2007, that is being gutted and converted into 31 luxury apartments in a £250m project, as London’s building boom continues.  Bought by the Abu Dhabi Investment Corporation and developers Finchhattan in April 2013, it is in the hands of principal contractor McGee (which has a good safety record and which won RoSPA Gold Awards for Occupational Health & Safety in 2012 and 2013).

This is an example of ‘façade-ism’, whereby the façade only is retained and propped up with a steel frame while the building is demolished and an entirely new structure is erected behind the old frontage.

An HSE investigation is underway but the main details that have emerged are as follows.

The 6-storey building has concrete floors. On 14th April 2014, two men were working on the demolition of these floors. One was driving a mini-digger on the second floor, while another, Lithuanian Dainius Rupsys (33) was below on the first floor, acting as a ‘burner’ – that is, melting the steel strengthening rods to enable demolition of the concrete by a digger.

Tragically, the second floor collapsed under the digger which fell through it, killing Mr Rupsys. The digger driver sustained minor injuries and was taken to University College Hospital.  The London Ambulance Service, Air Ambulance and London Fire Brigade attended the scene. Some 20 builders from the site gathered outside.
Roads were closed around the Square and the police advised protesters who were due to demonstrate a day later (in a Ukranian-linked rally) not to attend.

Declan Sherry, chief executive of site contractor McGee, confirmed that the digger was working on a 12 sq metres slab of concrete when the floor collapsed (see the Sky News picture here, showing the fallen digger).  Work was suspended while the HSE investigated the scene.

Mr Rupsys is said to have been with McGee since 2012; colleagues said he was a popular member of the team, and he was a father of 2.
Demolition is of course innately one of the most dangerous aspects of a project in construction safety terms. Instinctively it seems wrong that a digger should be operating immediately above another worker given that it was actually removing concrete from the floor slab. Of course we must await the findings of the investigation, to know the full circumstances that led to this tragic death.