Construction safety lapse in supermarket injures baby


One of a building safety professional’s nightmares is to be responsible for a site where a member of the public is inadvertently injured by the works.

That worry becomes even greater on the rare occasions when an infant or child is involved, and the victim’s very innocence and lack of defences makes it a frightening occurrence. You can also be sure that there will be legal consequences.

This particular accident took place nearly three years ago, and as so often we find it hard to understand why a relatively straightforward case takes so long to come to court, and why all those involved are left waiting for an outcome. It did happen in Scotland, where a particular double system exists such that while HSE investigates and provides evidence, the Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is solely responsible for raising any resulting criminal health & safety proceedings. It does seem strange that cases often take longer to be resolved than they might in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The project was the refurbishment of a supermarket in Drip Road, Stirling. The giant principal contractor Kier Construction was responsible. On 24th October 2011, a mother parked her sleeping baby boy’s pram while she used a cash machine at the supermarket. While her back was turned, the baby’s older sister (13) screamed because a barrier, with an ‘open for business’ banner attached, had been blown by the wind and toppled onto the pram’s hood, which then collapsed over the 18-week-old baby.

As the mother and daughter struggled to lift the barrier away from the pram, another member of the public came to help. To everyone’s huge relief, although the little boy went to hospital due to a bruised forehead, he was discharged on the same day. He has thankfully had no ill-effects from the accident.

What went wrong?

The HSE investigation established the following key facts:

  1. Kier had correctly erected barriers to separate members of the public from the site works
  2. Branded supermarket banners, attached to these barriers, advised the shoppers that the shop was still open
  3. In September 2011, a month or so previously, more high winds made the barriers collapse, so Kier’s site manger firstly ordered their removal, then they were reinstated but concrete blocks were put by their bases
  4. The critical error, in September through to the incident in October, was that the barrier manufacturer’s instructions were not followed: they are supposed to be weighted by filling them with water
  5. Furthermore, ther5de barriers adjacent to the cash machines were not locked together as they should have been

The barriers are designed and tested to withstand winds of up to 58 mph, if correctly weighted and interlocked. Thus the wind of approximately 30 mph on the day would not have presented a problem if the workers had assembled the protective barriers properly.

The result was eventually that at Stirling Sheriff Court, Kier Construction Ltd, of Sandy, Beds, received a nominal fine of £4,000. The firm pleaded guilty under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

If anyone needs a refresher on the topic of public protection from building works (particularly in the light of the current HSE crackdown on refurbishment works that we just reported), then visit their relevant site section here.