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

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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.

 

Need building work done? A short guide for clients (building owners, users or managing agents) on the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015

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

This guidance is aimed at you if you are a building owner, user or managing agent and are having maintenance, small-scale building work or other minor works carried out in connection with a business – as you will be a client with legal duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).

Following the simple steps below will help you meet your responsibilities as a client and ensure construction work and repairs are undertaken safely and without damaging worker’s and other people’s health.

What does CDM 2015 do?

Complying with CDM 2015 will help ensure that no-one is harmed during the work, and that your building is safe to use and maintain while giving you good value. Effective planning will also help ensure that your work is well managed with fewer unexpected costs and problems.

What do clients need to do?

Many clients, particularly those who only occasionally have construction work done, are not experts in construction work. Although you are not expected to actively manage or supervise the work yourself, you have a big influence over the way the work is carried out. Whatever the size of your project, you decide which designer and contractor will carry out the work and how much money, time and resource is available. The decisions you make have an impact on the health, safety and welfare of workers and others affected by the work.

CDM 2015 is not about creating unnecessary and unhelpful processes and paperwork. It is about choosing the right team and helping them to work together to ensure health and safety.

As a client, you need to do the following.

  1. Appoint the right people at the right time

If more than one contractor will be involved, you will need to appoint (in writing) a principal designer and a principal contractor.

A principal designer is required to plan, manage and coordinate the planning and design work.  Appoint them as early as possible so they can help you gather information about the project and ensure that the designers have done all they can to check that it can be built safely.

A principal contractor is required to plan, manage and coordinate the construction work. Appoint them as early as possible so they are involved in discussions with the principal designer about the work.

Getting the right people for the right job means your designers and your contractors need to have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify, reduce and manage health and safety risks. This is also the case if they are a company (known as having ‘organisational capability’ for the job). The designers and the contractors should be able to give references from previous clients for similar work and explain to you how they will achieve this.

Professional bodies can help you choose your architect and other designers. The Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) website has lists of businesses which have been assessed on their health and safety management. A contractor may be a member of a trade association.

  1. Ensure there are arrangements in place for managing and organising the project

The work is more likely to be done without harming anyone and on time if it is properly planned and managed. Sometimes the work is complex and uses many different trades. Often it involves high-risk work such as the work listed in the bulleted list below. The principal designer should understand these types of risks and try to avoid them when designing your project. The principal contractor or builder should manage the risks on site.

These are the biggest causes of accidents and ill health in construction work, and your designer and contractor can manage the risks by doing the following.

Falls from height:

  • Make sure ladders are in good condition, at a 1:4 angle and tied or footed.
  • Prevent people and materials falling from roofs, gable ends, working platforms and open edges using guardrails, midrails and toeboards.
  • Make sure fragile roof surfaces are covered, or secure working platforms with guard rails are used on or below the roof.

Collapse of excavations:

  • Shore excavations; cover or barrier excavations to prevent people or vehicles from falling in.

Collapse of structures:

  • Support structures (such as walls, beams, chimney breasts and roofs) with props; ensure props are installed by a competent person.

Exposure to building dusts:

  • Prevent dust by using wet cutting and vacuum extraction on tools; use a vacuum cleaner rather than sweeping; use a suitable, well-fitting mask.

Exposure to asbestos:

  • Do not start work if it is suspected that asbestos may be present until a demolition/refurbishment survey has been carried out.

Electricity:

  • Turn the electricity supply and other services off before drilling into walls.
  • Do not use excavators or power tools near suspected buried services.

Protect members of the public, the client, and others:

  • Secure the site; net scaffolds and use rubbish chutes.

Discuss with your designer and builder before work starts and throughout the build how these risks are being managed.

  1. Allow adequate time

Work that is rushed is likely to be unsafe and of poor quality. Allow enough time for the design, planning and construction work to be undertaken properly.

  1. Provide information to your designer and contractor

Your designer and builder will need information about what you want built, the site and existing structures or hazards that may be present such as asbestos, overhead cables, and buried services. Providing this information at an early stage will help them to plan, budget and work around problems. Your principal designer can help you gather this information.

Putting together a ‘client brief’ at the earliest stages which includes as much information as you have about the project, along with the timescales and budget for the build and how you expect the project to be managed can help you to set the standards for managing health and safety.

  1. Communicate with your designer and building contractor

Your project will only run efficiently if everyone involved in the work communicates, cooperates and coordinates with each other.

During the design and planning stage, you, your designer and contractor need to discuss issues affecting what will be built, how it will be built, how it will be used and how it will be maintained when finished. This will avoid people being harmed or having unexpected costs because issues were not considered when design changes could still easily be made.

Meeting with your designer and contractor as the work progresses gives an opportunity to deal with problems that may arise and discuss health and safety. This will help to ensure that the work progresses as planned.

  1. Ensure adequate welfare facilities on site

Make sure that your contractor has made arrangements for adequate welfare facilities for their workers before the work starts. See the HSE publication Provision of welfare facilities during construction work (see ‘Further reading’).

  1. Ensure a construction phase plan is in place

The principal contractor (or contractor if there is only one contractor) has to draw up a plan explaining how health and safety risks will be managed. This should be proportionate to the scale of the work and associated risks and you should not allow work to start on site until there is a plan.

  1. Keep the health and safety file

At the end of the build the principal designer should give you a health and safety file. If the principal designer leaves before the end of the project, the principal contractor (or contractor if there is only one contractor) should do this. It is a record of useful information which will help you manage health and safety risks during any future maintenance, repair, construction work or demolition. You should keep the file, make it available to anyone who needs to alter or maintain the building, and update it if circumstances change.

  1. Protecting members of the public, including your employees

If you are an employer, or you have members of the public visiting your premises, you need to be sure that they are protected from the risks of construction work.

Discuss with your designer and contractor how the construction work may affect how you run your business, eg you may have to re-route pedestrian access; make sure signs to your entrance are clear; or change the way your deliveries operate.

  1. Ensure workplaces are designed correctly

If your project is for a new workplace or alterations to an existing workplace (eg a factory or office), it must meet the standards set out in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (see ‘Further reading’).

Notifying construction projects

For some construction work (work lasting longer than 30 days with more than 20 workers working at the same time, or involving 500 person days of work), you need to notify HSE of the project as soon as possible before construction work starts. In practice, you may request someone else to do this on your behalf.

How can you find out more?

Your principal designer or principal contractor will be able to advise you on your duties.

Why you should comply with your duties as a client

If you do not comply with CDM 2015, you are likely to be failing to influence the management of health and safety on your project. This means that your project could be putting workers and others at risk of harm, and that the finished structure may not achieve good standards and be value for money.

If you don’t appoint a principal designer or principal contractor you will be responsible for the things that they should have done.

Serious breaches of health and safety legislation on your construction project could result in construction work being stopped by HSE or your local authority and additional work may be needed to put things right. In the most serious circumstances, you could be prosecuted.

Fee for Intervention

HSE now recovers the costs of time spent dealing with material breaches of health and safety law. This is known as Fee for Intervention (FFI). FFI applies when an inspector finds something wrong that they believe is serious enough for them to write to you about. A fee is charged for the time spent by the inspector in sorting it out. Following the simple guidance in this leaflet may help you to avoid having to pay a fee.

Further reading

CONIAC industry guides http://www.citb.co.uk/health-safety-and-other-topics/health-safety/construction-design-and-management-regulations/cdm-guidance-documents/

Construction phase plan (CDM 2015): What you need to know as a busy builder Construction Information Sheet CIS80 HSE Books 2015 www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cis80.htm

Health and safety in construction HSG150 (Third edition) HSE Books 2006 ISBN 978 0 7176 6182 4 www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg150.htm

Managing health and safety in construction. Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Guidance on regulations L153 HSE Books 2015 ISBN 978 0 7176 6626 3 www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l153.htm

Provision of welfare facilities during construction work Construction Information Sheet CIS59 HSE Books 2010 www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cis59.htm

Workplace health, safety and welfare. Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Approved Code of Practice and guidance L24 (Second edition) HSE Books 2013 ISBN 978 0 7176 6583 9 www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l24.htm

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