Construction company fined after safety failings

A construction company and its director have been fined for multiple safety failings following the collapse of two large properties in Westminster.Ethos Construction Solutions Ltd and its sole director Pritish Lad were recently prosecuted after an HSE investigation uncovered a catalogue of major issues.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that Ethos Construction was the principal contractor for a major project to refurbish a self-contained block of 14 buildings on Fulham Road in Westminster into 56 apartments and 13 commercial units.

The buildings, which had been empty for two years, were having extensive work carried out to refurbish them. However, on 23 January 2011, two adjoining properties collapsed without warning. Luckily, as the incident occurred at the weekend, there site was not being used and nobody was injured.

A Prohibition Notice was put in place to ban all work at the site until a competent structural engineer had surveyed the buildings and any necessary work identified had been carried out.A number of safety failings were identified by HSE inspectors during their investigation, including:

  • allowing existing structures to become weak and unstable;
  • no ‘temporary works plan’ in place for workers, and no checks on whether workers were sufficiently trained to undertake the work;
  • poor installation and positioning of building props;
  • storage of large piles of bricks on several floors of still-standing buildings, posing a potential over-loading risk; and
  • no assessment as to whether any evidence existed of a collapse risk.

Other issues identified included unsafe excavations, working at height risks, fire risks and insufficient fire detection and equipment, and unsuitable emergency provisions Following the inspection, two further Prohibition Notices were issued on unprotected excavations and fire protection, respectively.

The HSE told the court that there was overwhelming evidence of dangerous working practices and poor planning and management, for which the principal contractor and director were ultimately responsible as duty-holders.

Ethos Construction Solutions Ltd was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay a further £9000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching six regulations of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and one breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Pritish Lad, of Middlesex, was fined £9500 and ordered to pay costs of £6750 after he pleaded guilty to breaching all but one of the same regulations as the company.

Following sentencing, HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said: “The development site was a scene of complete devastation following the collapse and had anyone been working at the time there could have been multiple fatalities and serious injuries.”It is also good fortune that the collapsed building didn’t come down in the direction of the busy Fulham Road, which could also have had tragic consequences.

“Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but they are the only positive outcomes from the incident. The failings we identified at the site were shocking, both in terms of their scale and severity, and there were numerous risks elsewhere that could also have caused death or injury.”

The company and director have co-operated with the HSE investigation and have since employed a full-time health and safety manager.