Your garden walls: better to be safe – local authority prosecuted after wall collapses onto child

We hope you find our news updates useful. If you know of anyone who may benefit from reading them, please encourage them to register at the bottom-left of our news page (http://www.eljay.co.uk/news/) and we’ll email them a link each time an update is published. If in the unlikely event any difficulties are experienced whilst registering we’ll be more than happy to help and can be contacted on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk

Local authority prosecuted after wall collapses onto child

A local authority was sentenced last month after a brick boundary wall it part-owned collapsed and seriously injured a six-year-old girl.

Details of the Crown Court hearing reveal how, in August 2016, a wall spanning the back of two houses at a town in Essex collapsed onto the girl during a family barbecue. She was placed in an induced coma after sustaining serious and life-threatening injuries. She was in intensive care for 7 days and in hospital for 10 days in total. She has made a good recovery but still suffers some physical and emotional problems.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the local authority failed to take any action after receiving concerns about the wall’s condition from private tenants, two years prior to the incident. Wider concerns about the poor condition of brick walls in the vicinity, including council-owned walls, were not passed to building control or the Council’s inspections teams.

The local authority failed to implement a system of intelligence-led inspection, maintenance and repair, to adequately identify and remedy the risks of collapses to boundary walls, both owned solely by the Council, or jointly with private residents.

The local authority pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined of £133,333 and ordered to pay costs of £21,419.55.

Speaking after the case, an HSE inspector said: “This was a wholly avoidable incident which could easily have been fatal. If [the local authority] had properly recorded residents’ concerns about the state of the walls, then a suitably qualified individual could have been engaged to identify the level of risk and instigated the required remedial action. Despite the low frequency of wall collapses, they are high consequence events requiring those with the responsibility for structural safety to take proactive measures to ensure that boundary walls and other structures are safely maintained.”

Your garden walls: better to be safe

(Information on inspecting garden and boundary walls, published on 13 May 2013, by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government)

If you are an employer, or someone in control of premises, including landlords, the below information is relevant to you. Eljay Risk Management carries out Health and Safety Inspections of commercial and domestic premises, and we include checks of garden/boundary walls in our reports. Why not contact us for a no-obligation quote.

Garden walls

Garden and boundary walls should be inspected from time to time to see if any repairs are necessary, or whether a wall needs rebuilding. Such walls are amongst the most common forms of masonry to suffer collapse, and they are unfortunately one of the commonest causes of death by falling masonry. Your insurances may not cover you if the wall has been neglected.

Besides the general deterioration and ageing of a masonry wall over the years, walls may be affected by:

  • an increase in wind load or driving rain if a nearby wall is taken down
  • felling of nearby mature trees or planting of new trees close to the wall
  • changes leading to greater risk of damage from traffic
  • alterations, such as additions to the wall or removal of parts of the wall e.g. for a new gateway

Things to check

  1. Is the surface of the brickwork crumbling away?

If restricted to a few bricks this may not be serious but walls can be weakened by general crumbling across either face.

  1. Is the mortar pointing in good condition?

If the hard surface layer can be picked out from the joint, or if the mortar can easily be scraped out with, say, a door key, then this is a good indication that the wall may need repointing.

  1. Is there a tree near the wall?

As trees mature, there is a risk of the wall being damaged by the roots, and from wind-blown branches. Damaged sections may have to be re-built, perhaps with bridges incorporated to carry the wall over the roots. Removal of large trees can also lead to problems because the soil accumulates more moisture and expands.

  1. Is the wall upright?

Walls lean for a variety of causes, due for example to failure below ground caused by tree roots, a cracked drain, frost damage to the foundations or inadequate foundations. If your wall leans to an extent that could present a danger e.g. more than 30mm (half brick wall), 70mm (single brick wall) or 100mm (brick and a half wall) it is recommended that expert advice is sought. This may involve checking of the wall foundations.

  1. Is the wall thick enough for its height?

The map and table at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/your-garden-walls-better-to-be-safe give guidance on how high walls should be in different parts of the UK relative to their thickness. Seek expert advice if your wall exceeds the recommended height, or in circumstances whereby this guidance is inapplicable e.g. walls incorporating piers, or walls supporting heavy gates or retaining soil.

  1. Some climbing plants, like ivy, can damage walls if growth is unchecked.

Consider cutting them back and supporting regrowth clear of the wall.

  1. Is the top of the wall firmly attached?

Brick cappings or concrete copings may be loose or there may be horizontal cracks (frost damage) in the brickwork a few courses down. Loose or damaged masonry near the top of the wall will need to be rebuilt.

  1. Has the wall been damaged by traffic?

Minor scratch marks or scoring of the surface may obscure more significant cracks. Piers at vehicular entrances may have been dislodged by impact and be unsafe; in such cases they should be rebuilt.

  1. Are there any cracks in the wall?

Hairline cracks (0-2mm across) are common in walls and may not indicate serious problems. For wider cracks seek expert advice; some may indicate a need for partial or complete rebuilding. Seek advice on any horizontal cracks which pass right through a wall or any cracks close to piers or gates. Repointing of cracks can lead to problems. Do not repoint without establishing the cause of the cracking.

If you have any queries at all regarding the above, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 07896 016380 or at fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

 

HEALTH & SAFETY NEWS UPDATE – 12TH MAY 2016

We hope you find our news updates useful. If you know of anyone who may benefit from reading them, please encourage them to register at the bottom-left of our news page (http://www.eljay.co.uk/news/) and we’ll email them a link each time an update is published. If in the unlikely event any difficulties are experienced whilst registering we’ll be more than happy to help and can be contacted on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk

Structural stability during excavations – company fined after worker is fatally crushed in trench

A company has been fined £2.6 million after an employee was killed when the trench he was working in collapsed on him in Lancashire.

The 32-year-old worker was a sub-contractor working on behalf of a major utility solutions provider. In April 2010, he was working in a trench, laying ducting for new cable for an offshore windfarm that was being built off the coast in Lancashire. The trench was dug to a depth of 2.4 metres, without any shoring. He was killed when he became trapped in the trench after it collapsed on him.

The company pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court last week after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The Court heard that they failed to adequately risk assess the works or control the way in which the excavation took place.

Only last month a self employed contractor was given a six month custodial sentence after an employee was also killed when the trench he was working in collapsed on him.

Structural stability during excavations

What you need to do

The law says you must prevent danger to workers in or near excavations. To maintain the required precautions, a competent person must inspect excavation supports or battering at the start of the working shift and at other specified times. No work should take place until the excavation is safe.

Commercial clients must provide certain information to contractors before work begins. This should include relevant information on:

  • Ground conditions
  • underground structures or water courses; and
  • the location of existing services.
  • This information should be used to during the planning and preparation for excavation work.

Key issues are:

  • Collapse of excavations
  • Falling or dislodging material
  • Falling into excavations
  • Inspection

What you need to know

Every year people are killed or seriously injured by collapses and falling materials while working in excavations. They are at risk from:

  • Excavations collapsing and burying or injuring people working in them;
  • material falling from the sides into any excavation; and
  • people or plant falling into excavations.

Remember:

  • No ground can be relied upon to stand unsupported in all circumstances.
  • Depending on conditions, a cubic metre of soil can weigh in excess of 1.5 tonnnes.

Trenchless techniques should always be considered at the design stage as they replace the need for major excavations.

Underground and overhead services may also present a fire, explosion, electrical or other hazard and will need to be assessed and managed.

Collapse of excavations

Temporary support – Before digging any trench pit, tunnel, or other excavations, decide what temporary support will be required and plan the precautions to be taken.

Make sure the equipment and precautions needed (trench sheets, props, baulks etc) are available on site before work starts.

Battering the excavation sides – Battering the excavation sides to a safe angle of repose may also make the excavation safer.

In granular soils, the angle of slope should be less than the natural angle of repose of the material being excavated. In wet ground a considerably flatter slope will be required.

Falling or dislodging material

Loose materials – may fall from spoil heaps into the excavation. Edge protection should include toeboards or other means, such as projecting trench sheets or box sides to protect against falling materials. Head protection should be worn.

Undermining other structures – Check that excavations do not undermine scaffold footings, buried services or the foundations of nearby buildings or walls. Decide if extra support for the structure is needed before you start. Surveys of the foundations and the advice of a structural engineer may be required.

Effect of plant and vehicles – Do not park plant and vehicles close to the sides of excavations. The extra loadings can make the sides of excavations more likely to collapse.

Falling into excavations

Prevent people from falling – Edges of excavations should be protected with substantial barriers where people are liable to fall into them.

To achieve this, use:

  • Guard rails and toe boards inserted into the ground immediately next to the supported excavation side; or
  • fabricated guard rail assemblies that connect to the sides of the trench box
  • the support system itself, eg using trench box extensions or trench sheets longer than the trench depth.

Inspection

A competent person who fully understands the dangers and necessary precautions should inspect the excavation at the start of each shift.

Excavations should also be inspected after any event that may have affected their strength or stability, or after a fall of rock or earth.

A record of the inspections will be required and any faults that are found should be corrected immediately.

For more information visit the HSE web page http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/excavations.htm or contact us on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help.

Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence