Worked is killed during house project
Most domestic occupier Clients believe that if they hire a builder to carry out the construction works then they are putting all the responsibility for health and safety onto that builder.
Which should mean, in theory, that the Client is not liable for any injuries or deaths during the course of the construction.
If a Client can prove that they hired a competent builder then they should be protected from civil or criminal action if some one dies on their property. But it is interesting at what point do they become liable (if they ever do) should the builder be clearly incompetent.
In this article we are going to look at a case where a worker was killed during a simple house construction project. There are clear lessons for the Client, builder and workers in general.
In 2015, a home occupier called Mark Jones hired a builder to refurbish and extend his house into his ‘dream home’. This is quite common and is the dream of many people.
However the builder, Greens Building Contractors got delayed several months and during this time, the Client noticed that there was very little, if any site supervision of the workers.
Indeed several workers actually complained directly to the Client that there was no sense of accountability or management of the works.
On the 25th February 2016, a carpenter called Malcolm Basten, who had been hired by the builder fell 2.5 metres from a ladder and unfortunately later passed away in hospital.
The reason why Malcolm Basten fell off the ladder is quite clear. It was explained in the Surrey Coroners court that Mr Basten and some colleagues were working on the first floor roof building timber frames for the installation of dormer windows. The first floor timber joists were installed but there was no plywood boarding on top of the joists. There were no safety harnesses or edge protection. There was no health and safety paperwork completed and there was no site supervisor onsite.
He was on his ladder when it slid and he fell between 2.5 and 3 meters. He later passed away from his injuries.
So, a simple slip of the ladder ’caused’ the accident. It happens all the time, ladders slip. That is why ladders are supposed to be secured or even better, scaffold is supposed to be used.
But in health and safety, the real cause of the accident is not the slip itself. Because everyone knows slips and trips happen. Slips and trips do not necessarily lead to injuries or death. In Health and safety events like a paint spill or a ladder slip are expected and planned for. In this case, the ladder should have been expected to slip and therefore it should have been tied and restrained.
When the ladder slipped, the workers should have smiled at each other and said ‘that’s why we tie up the ladders’.
The real cause of the injuries and death can be determined by asking some of these questions:
The coroners court heard that the Client had identified the project was in delay and that there was very little management of workers onsite. The project was several months in delay.
A clear warning sign of poor management was that workers were asking the Client questions about what work needed to be completed and how. When the Client asked the builder who the foreman was the builder named someone onsite who later confessed that he was not aware he was the foreman!
Most Clients do not know anything about construction.
They naively expect that they can hire a builder and let them get on with what they do best.
However, should a Client notice that a builder is not managing the works competently or safely they do have a duty to warn the builder to improve. Should the builder not improve management and health and safety then the Client should have terminated the contract and hired a new builder.
Would this have saved the workers life? Probably. If the builder had been threatened with termination the builder would have either improved or quit the project. And a reasonably competent site manager would have told the site worker to ensure all ladders were tied or forced him to use scaffolding or a cherry picker or a harness.
Frustratingly, the construction industry has all the knowledge to prevent injuries and deaths. There is so much great content and there are so many fantastic life saving products out in the market.
Its hard to injure yourself if you have scaffolding, harnesses, protective equipment and so forth. Hard but not impossible. But the construction industry has to help itself.
The health and safety executive work hard every year promoting and enforcing health and safety best practice. It is frustrating that they did not close down the site. But there is no information that the executive were aware of the works. Every construction project should notify the executive of new works starting so not sure what failed here?
Workers need to take of their own safety and protect themselves. However, there is recognition that it is hard for workers to speak up and say ‘I am not working off a ladder’.
That is why legislation demands so much from builders and also from Clients.
In our opinion, we expect the building company and the companies directors to receive heavy fines and even jail time. The business will probably go into administration, personal fines will be paid and the building company will start again under a different entity.
The Client may be personally liable for not dismissing the clearly incompetent contractor earlier. The Client might claim that the contractor was responsible for the health and safety but if the contractor was clearly not doing their job the Client should have taken action. If you hire someone who is not qualified to fix your boiler and the boiler blows up and kills your tenant you are probably liable. What is the difference here? Its an interesting question and one that should terrify Clients.