Demolition site shows “shocking disregard” for construction safety


In the current building market, where renovation and rebuilding are more vibrant sectors than outright new builds, it is critical for worker safety that the inevitable demolition of old buildings (in part or completely) is managed properly, with all the expected safeguards that one would expect from a well-managed building site. In this instance, this certainly was not the case.

ICG Construction Management Services Ltd. of Sevenoaks, Kent, was the principal contractor on a site in Chobham Road, Woking, Surrey. On 5th June 2014 the firm was working on the demolition of a 2 storey existing house on the site (see the photo). The firm’s owner (and the house owner) Mr. Daniel Lautier had decided not to use a recognised demolition contractor, choosing instead to do it himself.

Quite by chance, an HSE inspector was driving past and was horrified to see 3 site workers standing at the edges of a formerly pitched roof, 6 to 7 metres above ground, having neither edge protection nor fall prevention safeguards.

The men had been simply throwing the roof tiles and masonry down to the ground as they broke up the structure. The inspector served an immediate Prohibition Notice on this work.

Worse was to follow, because a subsequent investigation by HSE inspector Russell Beckett revealed a long list of failings about the site. These included:

  1. an absence of any system of work being drawn up for demolishing the house
  2. men working at height without safety precautions
  3. ad hoc, disorganised demolition that failed to meet accepted industry norms
  4. a lack of supervision or plans
  5. ‘non-existent’ welfare arrangements for the workforce

The inspector described the site as “one of most inadequate and unprofessional I have ever seen.”

Asbestos dangers ignored

But the most frightening aspect, in common with too many demolition cases that we have had to report on, was that there was asbestos in the old building. (No survey had been carried out). This led to a further Prohibition Notice, to protect both the workforce and the public. HSE insisted that a proper plan be drawn up to include the proper asbestos safeguards. This should of course have preceded any work being started.

It was also a condition of work restarting that no more throwing of materials from height would take place. As HSE pointed out, it would have been safer and more straightforward to engage an operator with an excavator.

Redhill Magistrates found Mr Lautier and his company guilty on a total of four counts. In the end the Court just fined Lautier personally (possibly because it was his own property)  - his fine was £3,000 plus  £1,044 in costs.

The investigating HSE inspector’s comment was:

“The management of health and safety was non-existent even at the most basic level. There were so many failures on site. “

Demolition is best left to specialist subcontractors, and must always be preceded by a plan that includes an asbestos survey. For a quick refresher, visit here.