Uncontrolled demolition risked lives

Excavator demolishing building

Demolishing a building might look a lot easier than putting one up. But this dangerous assumption by one contractor put lives at risk and has now landed him with a suspended jail sentence.

Back in 2013, Panther AL, a company which owned an old print works on Ramsgate High Street, appointed builder Martin Elmes of Hemel Hempstead to demolish it. 

Chaotic and “primitive” process

Elmes was given the contract without Panther AL checking that he had any experience of knocking down three storey buildings. The demolition in November of that year revealed he was utterly unfit to carry out the job.

The process was chaotic and unplanned. Neither company nor contractor gained permission from Thanet District Council to bring down the building. There was no specialist demolition equipment on site: instead “a 'JCB-type' machine with a bucket attached to the front” was used to knock down the structure, according to the prosecutor. “It was the most primitive form of demolition.”

Road stayed open

Worst of all, the public were exposed to potentially fatal risks. The road was not closed to carry out the demolition; a low wooden hoarding was all that separated pedestrians from the building. The prosecution noted: “workmen on site used cones and red tape to put an exclusion zone around the property, which according to witnesses, happened as the demolition was taking place.” Reportedly, young people were running in and out of the zone. It was only by luck that no one was seriously harmed when the building collapsed uncontrollably into Ramsgate High Street.

Company punished

As well as Elmes’ failings, the Health and Safety Executive’s investigator highlighted Panther AL’s responsibility for making sure their contractor had the right expertise to complete such hazardous work. The company was fined £160,000 plus costs at Canterbury Crown Court last week.

McCormack Benson Health and Safety’s experienced consultants help companies become stringent in selecting sub-contractors who are competent and meet essential standards.