Basement safety failings lead to £13,400 fine

A London construction company has been fined over £13,000 after an unannounced Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspection found that a basement excavation was putting the lives of workers at risk.

The visit to the Darma Limited site in Fulham came during a clampdown on poor safety conditions on basement projects in November 2013. HSE inspectors found workers operating in and around excavations up to four metres deep that were not properly supported.

Westminster Magistrates were told that basement excavations under existing buildings required safe systems of work including the appointment of a temporary works engineer, clear and competent site management and adequate shoring and propping.

Darma Limited was fined £13,400 and ordered to pay £4,719 in costs after admitting a breach of Regulation 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

HSE inspector Dominic Long said on 28 May: “Conditions on this site were appalling with deep unsupported excavations throughout the basement. This not only put the large number of operatives in the basement at risk of death but could also have led to the collapse of the building itself.

“Darma Limited showed scant regard for the safety of the workers they were responsible for, it was extremely fortunate no-one was seriously injured or killed.”

In March, the HSE announced that almost half of domestic basement projects across three London boroughs – Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and parts of Westminster – failed unannounced safety checks on 127 sites over a two-day crackdown.

At two projects, conditions were so dangerous that inspectors were forced to close the sites. Enforcement action was taken at 62 sites, including 44 Prohibition Notices, 12 Improvement Notices and 63 Notifications of Contravention served identifying material breaches.

Jeremy Sirrell, a partner at Palmers whose expertise includes representation in health and safety prosecutions, said: “Working safely is likely to cost little more than taking health and safety shortcuts and any expense involved is a wise investment. Should something go wrong, those responsible for health and safety are likely to pay a heavy price for any failings, in financial and reputational terms at best or, in the worst cases, in injury or loss of life.

“Construction sites are among the most dangerous places to work and construction employers cannot afford to be complacent about maintaining high health and safety standards.”

Employers seeking clarification or guidance on their health and safety responsibilities or facing prosecution can find out more by contacting Palmers’ health and safety specialists Lara Murray and Jeremy Sirrell.