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April 5, 2009

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Migrant workers allowed to sleep on site

A construction contractor put the safety of five Polish workers at risk

by allowing them to sleep on a site with flammable materials present, a

court heard.

Principal contractor, Asaad Al-Helu was undertaking construction work at a site in Hull. The premises contained flammable materials, such as wood and rubbish, and an unsafe electrical system, yet workers were still allowed to smoke and drink on site.

There were no means of escape, or of raising the alarm in the event of a fire. This not only put the men sleeping on site in danger but also posed a potential risk to residents of nearby houses.

On being alerted to the situation at the site by Hull City Council, the HSE investigated the premises in February 2008. Inspector John Rowe immediately served two Prohibition Notices in relation to working at height and the safety of the electrical fixtures, respectively.

Following the inspector’s visit, a fire-safety officer and housing officer from the council investigated the premises and issued a Prohibition Order under the Housing Act 2004, in order to evict and re-house the workers.

Inspector Rowe revisited the site in March 2008 and served a further Prohibition Notice stopping all work, as “there was nobody competent on the site to manage the construction work safely”. Al-Helu had no background in construction and failed to prepare a construction plan before the start of the work. If he had carried out a plan, it should have brought to light the risks from fire, work at height, and site electrics, and enabled safe practices to be used. No work has since been carried out on the site.

Appearing before Hull magistrates on 31 March, Al-Helu pleaded guilty to two offences under s33(1) of the HSWA 1974: a breach of reg. 23(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to prepare a construction plan; and a failure to discharge his duty under s3(2) of the HSWA not to expose persons not in his employment to risks to their health and safety.

Al-Helu accepted he had made mistakes but had trusted the workers to do a good job. He also told the court he had fallen on hard times because of the credit crunch. The magistrates said it was fairly obvious that Al-Helu had no competence in construction and told him that if he was to engage in such activity he must fully conversant with the rules and regulations.

He was fined £1000 and ordered to pay costs of £1149.

Inspector Rowe told SHP that this was the first time he had ever come across workers sleeping on site. He said: “These five construction workers were allowed to sleep on the site at night, which exposed them to fatal injuries in the foreseeable event of a fire. One carelessly discarded cigarette could have had serious and possibly fatal consequences, not only for themselves but also for local residents.

“Generally, standards of work and preparation on the site fell far short of the industry norm. The risks were foreseeable and straightforward to avoid.”

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