Demolition health and safety – company and contractor sentenced for uncontrolled collapse of building on high street

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The owner of a building in Kent and the contractor employed to demolish it have been fined for safety failings after an uncontrolled collapse onto a high street.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the collapse, which occurred in November 2013, found that the contractor had failed to properly plan the work and then carried out unsafe demolition work.

The building owner did not make any enquiries into the suitability or competence of the contractor to undertake the demolition.

Neither the building owner nor the contractor applied for a road closure and members of the public were put at risk.

The building owner pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9128.89.

The contractor pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 25(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and has been sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two years.

HSE inspector Andrew Cousins said after the hearing: “Lives were put at risk when this structure uncontrollably collapsed. Clients have a responsibility to appoint competent contractors to undertake hazardous work such as demolition.

“Those in control of demolition have a responsibility to plan demolition work and to devise a safe way of working that protects both the workers and members of the public.

“The job could have been safely carried out by simply undertaking the demolition behind a substantial hoarding.”

Demolition

What you need to do

The law says that all demolition, dismantling and structural alteration must be carefully planned and carried out in a way that prevents danger by practitioners with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience. Key issues are:

  • Falls from height
  • Injury from falling materials
  • Uncontrolled collapse
  • Risks from connected services
  • Traffic management
  • Hazardous materials
  • Noise and vibration
  • Fire
  • Worker involvement

What you need to know

A systematic approach to demolition projects is a team effort between many people, who all have responsibilities:

  • Clients must appoint dutyholders who have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience and where organisations, the organisational capability, and are adequately resourced.
  • Clients, with the help of the principal designer must provide those who need it (eg, designers, contractors) with pre-construction information that can reasonably be obtained. A range of surveys and reports will be needed – for example, to check for presence of asbestos; structural stability of site and nearby structures; the location of above and below ground live services in the work area; etc. These should be done before work begins and not be left for the principal contractor to organise once the demolition work has started.
  • Principal designers must plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety issues in the pre-construction phase (i.e. before demolition starts) to give principal contractors as much information as possible to allow the principal contractor to keep people (site workers and the public) as far as possible from the risks.
  • Principal contractors must plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety issues during the demolition work.
  • Site managers must ensure workers are supervised and are following safe working practice.
  • Sub-contractors and site workers must follow the instructions and plans given to them by those in charge of the work and ensure that their colleagues do too.

Falls from height

During demolition and dismantling, workers can be injured falling from edges, through openings, fragile surfaces and partially demolished floors.

Dutyholders have a responsibility to assess, eliminate and control the risks of falls from height. Find out more about falls from height: http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/workingatheight.htm.

Injury from falling materials

Workers and passers-by can be injured by the premature and uncontrolled collapse of structures, and by flying debris.

A safe system of work is one that keeps people as far as possible from the risks. This may include:

  • establishing exclusion zones and hard-hat areas, clearly marked and with barriers or hoardings if necessary
  • covered walkways
  • using high-reach machines
  • reinforcing machine cabs so that drivers are not injured
  • training and supervising site workers

Uncontrolled collapse

The structural survey should consider:

  • the age of the structure
  • its previous use
  • the type of construction
  • nearby buildings or structures
  • the weight of removed material or machinery on floors above ground level

The method statement for the demolition should identify the sequence required to prevent accidental collapse of the structure.

Risks from connected services

Gas, electricity, water and telecommunications services need to be isolated or disconnected before demolition work begins. If this is not possible, pipes and cables must be labelled clearly, to make sure they are not disturbed.

Traffic management

Effective traffic management systems are essential on site, to avoid putting workers at risk of being hit by vehicles turning, slewing, or reversing. Where possible, vision aids and zero tail swing machines should be used. Find out more about traffic management

Hazardous materials

Hazardous materials that should to be considered include dust, asbestos and respirable crystalline silica (RCS).There may also be material or contamination on site that has not been cleared, for example:

  • acids from industrial processes
  • paints
  • flammable liquids
  • unidentified drums
  • microbiological hazards (especially in old hospital buildings).

Find out more about the control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH): http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/index.htm

Noise and vibration

Frequent exposure to loud noise can permanently damage a persons hearing. Noise can also create a safety risk if it makes it difficult for workers to communicate effectively or stops them hearing warning signals.

Vibrating hand tools used in demolition can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).Workers exposure to vibration must be managed and reduced as far as possible.

Fire

Fire is a risk where hot work (using any tools that generate spark, flame or heat) is being done. During structural alteration, the fire plan must be kept up to date as the escape routes and fire points may alter. There must be an effective way to raise the alarm.

Worker involvement

Everyone involved must to know what precautions are to be taken on site. Workplaces where employees are involved in taking decisions about health and safety are safer and healthier. Your employees are often the best people to understand the risks in their workplace. Find out more about involving your workers in health and safety: http://www.hse.gov.uk/involvement

Resources

Leaflets

Books

Useful links – other HSE sites

The law

For more information, visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/demolition.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

 

 

Hand-arm vibration at work – Oxfordshire based company fined for safety failings

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Oxfordshire based company fined for safety failings

An Oxfordshire based, ground engineering company has been fined £6,000 plus costs after a worker contracted severe hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).

Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee, who was working at the company’s earth retaining division, was eventually diagnosed as suffering from HAVS after repeatedly flagging his symptoms to the company for over five years.

Symptoms of HAVS can include tingling, numbness and pain in the hands. This affects sleep when it occurs at night and sufferers have difficulties in gripping and holding things, particularly small items such as screws, doing up buttons, writing and driving.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company did not have the right system in place to manage the workers’ health as it did not have a suitable health surveillance programme in place to monitor for the early onset of HAVS and to prevent the irreversible condition from developing.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Mehtaab Hamid said: “This was a case of the company completely failing to grasp the importance of HAVS health surveillance.

“If they had understood why health surveillance was necessary, it would have ensured that it had the right systems in place to monitor worker’s health and the employee’s condition would not have been allowed to develop to a severe and life altering stage”.

Hand-arm vibration at work

Hand-arm vibration comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant ill health (painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints).

Advice for employers

The following information will help you understand:

  • What you may need to do as an employer under the Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 which came into force in July 2005;
  • How you can protect your employees from hand-arm vibration.

This information will also be of interest to you if you are an employer whose business involves the use of hand-guided powered equipment and powered machines which process hand-held materials and of particular interest if your business involves the regular and frequent use of hand-held power tools.

You may also find this information helpful if you are:

  • An employee, or self-employed person, who uses vibrating equipment;
  • A trade union safety representative or an employee representative;
  • An adviser on occupational vibration risks.

If your workers use vibrating equipment you may also have to consider risks from exposure to noise.

Remember:

By law, as an employer, you must assess and identify measures to eliminate or reduce risks from exposure to hand-arm vibration so that you can protect your employees from risks to their health.

Where the risks are low, the actions you take may be simple and inexpensive, but where the risks are high, you should manage them using a prioritised action plan to control exposure to hand-arm vibration.

Where required, ensure that:

  • Control measures to reduce vibration are properly applied; and
  • You provide information, training and health surveillance.

Review what you are doing if anything changes that may affect exposures to vibration where you work.

The Health effects of hand-arm vibration at work

What is hand-arm vibration?

Hand-arm vibration is vibration transmitted from work processes into workers’ hands and arms. It can be caused by operating hand-held power tools, such as road breakers, and hand-guided equipment, such as powered lawnmowers, or by holding materials being processed by machines, such as pedestal grinders.

When is it hazardous?

Regular and frequent exposure to hand-arm vibration can lead to permanent health effects. This is most likely when contact with a vibrating tool or work process is a regular part of a person’s job. Occasional exposure is unlikely to cause ill health.

What health effects can it cause?

Hand-arm vibration can cause a range of conditions collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), as well as specific diseases such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are the early symptoms?

Identifying signs and symptoms at an early stage is important. It will allow you, as the employer, to take action to prevent the health effects from becoming serious for your employee. The symptoms include any combination of:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers;
  • Not being able to feel things properly;
  • Loss of strength in the hands;
  • Fingers going white (blanching) and becoming red and painful on recovery (particularly in the cold and wet, and probably only in the tips at first).

For some people, symptoms may appear after only a few months of exposure, but for others they may take a few years. They are likely to get worse with continued exposure to vibration and may become permanent.

What effects do these symptoms have?

The effects on people include:

  • Pain, distress and sleep disturbance;
  • Inability to do fine work (eg assembling small components) or everyday tasks (eg fastening buttons);
  • Reduced ability to work in cold or damp conditions (ie most outdoor work) which would trigger painful finger blanching attacks;
  • Reduced grip strength, which might affect the ability to do work safely.

These effects can severely limit the jobs an affected person is able to do, as well as many family and social activities.

Do you have a hand-arm vibration problem at work?

This will depend on whether your employees regularly and frequently work with vibrating tools and equipment and/or handle vibrating materials. It will also depend on how long your employees are exposed to vibration and at what level. As a simple guide you will probably need to do something about vibration exposures if any of the following apply:

  • Do your employees complain of tingling and numbness in their hands or fingers after using vibrating tools?
  • Do your employees hold work pieces, which vibrate while being processed by powered machinery such as pedestal grinders?
  • Do your employees regularly use hand-held or hand guided power tools and machines such as concrete breakers, concrete pokers, sanders, grinders, disc cutters, hammer drills, chipping hammers, chainsaws, brush cutters, hedge trimmers, powered mowers, scabblers or needle guns?
  • Do your employees regularly operate hammer action tools for more than about 15 minutes per day or some rotary and other action tools for more than about one hour per day?
  • Do you work in an industry where exposures to vibration are particularly high, such as construction, foundries, or heavy steel fabrication/shipyards?

Which jobs and industries are most likely to involve hand-arm vibration?

Jobs requiring regular and frequent use of vibrating tools and equipment and handling of vibrating materials are found in a wide range of industries, for example:

  • Building and maintenance of roads and railways;
  • Construction;
  • Estate management (eg maintenance of grounds, parks, water courses, road and rail side verges);
  • Forestry;
  • Foundries;
  • Heavy engineering;
  • Manufacturing concrete products;
  • Mines and quarries;
  • Motor vehicle manufacture and repair;
  • Public utilities (eg water, gas, electricity, telecommunications);
  • Shipbuilding and repair.

What kinds of tools and equipment can cause ill health from vibration?

There are hundreds of different types of hand-held power tools and equipment which can cause ill health from vibration. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Chainsaws;
  • Concrete breakers/road breakers;
  • Cut-off saws (for stone etc);
  • Hammer drills;
  • Hand-held grinders;
  • Impact wrenches;
  • Jigsaws;
  • Needle scalers;
  • Pedestal grinders;
  • Polishers;
  • Power hammers and chisels;
  • Powered lawn mowers;
  • Powered sanders;
  • Scabblers;
  • Strimmers/brush cutters.

Do you engage in routine continual monitoring or logging of workers’ vibration exposure?

Vibration exposure monitoring Q&A: http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/advicetoemployers/vibration-exposure-monitoring-qa.pdf

Worried about your hands?

Advice for workers: http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/yourhands.htm

For more information visit the HSE web page: http://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/ 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