City of London building accident could have been fatal


Most of the building health and safety incidents that we report (for the instruction and information of others) take place on sites away from the passing public. In a minority of cases the site concerned is close to pedestrians – but this is an unusual accident that took place in the financial heart of the City of London and therefore had the potential to be catastrophic. As it was, one worker was badly injured.

On 5th October 2011, the new 7-storey South Place Hotel was being constructed in Wilson Street, London EC2. The principal contractor was McClaren Construction Ltd. Working as a subcontractor was John Doyle Construction Ltd, and it was John Doyle’s team that was on the day in question dismantling the temporary framework of the construction, at 6th floor level.

Beam hit worker and landed in street

The workers lost control of a 6-metre-long, 32 kg steel beam, which fell down the side of the hotel. A self-employed (unnamed) worker was standing on a mobile access platform at third floor level and he was struck by the beam. It then crashed to the ground in busy Wilson Street, luckily without injury to anyone else.

The worker (38) suffered 6 broken ribs and 3 fractured vertebrae. He was hospitalised for a week and could not work for a further 2 months.

The findings of the HSE investigation were:

  • The subcontractor had prepared a method statement for its work
  • This had been approved by the principal contractor without notification that the safety measures were inadequate in any way
  • The principal contractor had existing policies for the protection of workers and the public
  • Both companies were experienced in construction and should have known how to manage the project
  • Nothing was done by either on the day of the accident to ensure that no-one was working or walking underneath the dismantling operation
  • The proper worker safety and public safety measures that should have been in place were reinstated after the accident

At Southwark Crown Court, both companies were found guilty. Principal contractor McClaren Construction Ltd. of Brentwood, Essex received a fine of £22,500 as well as having to pay prosecution costs of £14,854.

John Doyle Construction Ltd had (since the incident) gone into liquidation. The court advised that had the firm still been trading, it would have imposed a £50,000 fine. As it was, there was just a nominal £1 fine with no costs.

The investigating HSE Inspector (Eileen Gascoigne) rightly commented:

“What happened at the building site that day had the potential to kill one or more workers and members of the public passing close by. It was entirely good fortune that the consequences were not even graver. The incident was entirely preventable. The risks were foreseeable and the measures that needed to be in place are well-known in the industry and were readily implemented afterwards.”

The case is one that illustrates the way in which the correct health & safety boxes might be ticked before the site work begins: but when the job is under way, the safety aspects can be overlooked in practice. That is why the presence of genuine, experienced construction sector safety consultants from McCormack Benson Health & Safety can be invaluable – they will often spot the accident that is about to happen or the other lapses on site that can actually, if corrected, save the contractor money by increasing efficiency. As well of course, as protecting workers and the public at large.