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 – 29TH OCTOBER 2015

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IN THIS UPDATE

Introduction

HSE issues health warning to the stone industry

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Work related injury and ill health still costing Britain £14 billion per year

Introduction

We open this week’s update with a health warning issued by the HSE to the stone industry, but also relevant to industries where exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can occur. Worryingly, during a recent inspection initiative in the south of England, a number of businesses were found to be unaware that in 2006 the workplace exposure limit for RCS was revised from 0.3 mg/m3 to 0.1mg/m3 thereby requiring them to devise more stringent controls.

Also, with the widely reported news yesterday that Volkswagen could be facing corporate manslaughter charges over rigged diesel emission tests, we look at the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, and the impact its introduction has had on companies and organisations – particularly the way in which their activities are managed and organised by senior management.

And finally, we share news of the financial – and human – cost to Britain of work related injury and ill health in the year 2014/15 according to statistics released by this week by the HSE.

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

HSE issues health warning to the stone industry

The Health and Safety Executive is urging the stone industry to do more to protect workers’ health following findings of a recent inspection initiative in the south of England.

HSE inspectors visited sixty stone businesses, including work surface manufacturers, stonemasons and monumental masons during the initiative, which ran from June to September, and was supported by trade association, Stone Federation Great Britain. The visited businesses were both Stone Federation Great Britain members and non-members.

Worryingly, serious breaches were found at over half (35) of the premises that were visited. HSE issued four Prohibition Notices, 54 Improvement Notices and provided verbal advice to others.

Although many of the sites visited were attempting to manage their health and safety, four common areas of concern were found throughout the initiative –

  • control of respirable crystalline silica (RCS), a hazardous dust which can damage health,
  • handling and storage of stone,
  • poor machinery guarding, and
  • air compressors can create an explosion risk.

A number of businesses were unaware that in 2006 the workplace exposure limit for RCS was revised from 0.3 mg/m3 to 0.1mg/m3 thereby requiring them to devise more stringent controls.

Key issues in this area were:

  • Dry sweeping which can put fine ‘respirable’ stone dust back into the workplace air;
  • Extraction systems which are intended to protect workers by removing stone dust from air in the workplace;
  • Face masks that were inadequate.

HSE Inspector Tahir Mortuza, who led on the initiative, said:

“HSE intends to visit more stone work businesses in the future to ensure that health and safety is adequately managed. Business owners should review their processes and the materials they use whilst thinking about what might cause harm and whether they are doing enough to protect workers.

“Once the risks have been identified, businesses need to decide how best to control them so they can put the appropriate measures in place. A good starting point is to look at respirable crystalline silica, as it is one of the greatest risks for businesses engaged in stonework, as found in this inspection campaign.”

Chief Executive of the Stone Federation Great Britain, Jane Buxey, said:

“Health and Safety is a top priority for the Federation and we are working closely with the HSE to improve standards in the Industry.

“We hope to run a number of joint events with HSE and they will be sending representatives to Stone Federation Great Britain events and the Federation’s Health and Safety Forum.”

You can also keep up to date with new guidance, events and other important stone working issues by signing up for the stone working e-bulletin: http://www.hse.gov.uk/stonemasonry/subscribe.htm

Occupational exposure to RCS can also occur in the following industries:

  • construction and demolition processes – concrete, stone, brick, mortar;
  • quarrying;
  • slate mining and slate processing;
  • potteries, ceramics, ceramic glaze manufacture, brick and tile manufacture;
  • foundries;
  • refractory production and cutting;
  • concrete product manufacture;
  • grit and abrasive blasting, particularly on sandstone.

The HSE have published a leaflet “Control of exposure to silica dust – A guide for employees”, free to download by clicking on the following link: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg463.pdf

For clarification or more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

It has been widely reported in the news this week that Volkswagen could be facing corporate manslaughter charges over rigged diesel emission tests.

What is corporate manslaughter?

When the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in April 2008, it was a landmark in law. For the first time, companies and organisations could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

The Act clarifies the criminal liabilities of companies including large organisations where serious failures in the management of health and safety result in a fatality.

The Ministry of Justice leads on the Act and more information is available on its Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 webpage.

Although the offence is not part of health and safety law, the HSE welcomed and supports the act, which has introduced an important new element in the corporate management of health and safety.

Prosecutions are of the corporate body and not individuals, but the liability of directors, board members or other individuals under health and safety law or general criminal law, are unaffected. And the corporate body itself and individuals can still be prosecuted for separate health and safety offences.

The Act also largely removes the Crown immunity that applied to the previous common law corporate manslaughter offence. This is consistent with Government and HSE policy to secure the eventual removal of Crown immunity for health and safety offences. The Act provides a number of specific exemptions that cover public policy decisions and the exercise of core public functions.

Companies and organisations should keep their health and safety management systems under review, in particular, the way in which their activities are managed and organised by senior management. The Institute of Directors and HSE have published guidance for directors on their responsibilities for health and safety: ‘Leading health and safety at work: leadership actions for directors and board members’ (INDG417): http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg417.pdf

For answers to the following FAQs, click on the link http://www.hse.gov.uk/corpmanslaughter/faqs.htm#where:

  • Where can I find the Act and any guidance?
  • When did the new Act come into force?
  • Are there any new duties or obligations under the Act?
  • What do companies and organisations need to do to comply?
  • Where does health and safety legislation come in?
  • Who will investigate and prosecute under the new offence?
  • What is the role of health and safety regulators like HSE, local authorities etc?
  • Will directors, board members or other individuals be prosecuted?

For clarification or more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 07896 016380 or at Fiona@eljay.co.uk, and we’ll be happy to help.

Work related injury and ill health still costing Britain £14 billion per year

More than a million people are being made ill by their work, costing society £14.3 billion, according to new figures published this week.

Despite Britain remaining one of the safest places to work in Europe, injury and ill-health statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive show that an estimated 27.3 million working days were lost due to work related ill health or injury in 2014/15.

In the same year 142 workers were killed, and there were 611,000 injuries in the workplace.

Of the estimated 1.2 million people who suffered from a work related illness, 516,000 were new cases.

HSE’s Chief Statistician Alan Spence explains more about the latest findings in this video (click on the link): https://youtu.be/T5zRbXfQKpg

The full statistical report (http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh1415.pdf) and industry specific data (http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/industry/index.htm) can be found online (click on the links).

This is the view of HSE’s Chair Judith Hackitt: “It’s encouraging that there have been improvements in injuries and ill health caused by work related activities. But behind the statistics are people, their families, friends, work colleagues, directly affected by something that’s gone wrong, that is usually entirely preventable. Nobody should lose their life or become ill simply from doing their job. These figures show that despite the great strides and improvements made over the last 40 years since Britain’s health and safety regime was established, there is still more that can be done”.

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

Thankyou to Bryan & Armstrong Ltd (www.bryan-armstrong.com), for very kindly providing us with the below infographic, relating to the latest annual health and safety statistics:

HSE Health and safety statistics 2014/15 Infographic
Click image to open full version (via Bryan Armstrong Ltd).