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August 20, 2009

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Construction firm ignored Prohibition Notice

A building contractor has been fined £8500 for ignoring a Prohibition Notice and continuing unsafe excavation work.

City of London Magistrates’ Court heard that JAS Truscott & Son Ltd was refurbishing a mews house in Belgravia, London. The firm was excavating the ground floor of the property and had dug four three-metre deep pits in order to create a basement.

During the course of the development the company was advised by the local building control that the pits were not properly supported. But the firm continued to ignore the advice it was given and the case was referred to the HSE.

HSE inspector Kevin Shorten visited the site on 2 June 2008 and found that two of the pits had no supports in place to prevent the sides from collapsing. The other two pits had insufficient supports in place, which were present on only two sides of the hole and consisted of a plywood back board that was supported by a single horizontal timber strut. The inspector also noticed that there was no edge protection around the top of the pits.

The firm was immediately issued with a Prohibition Notice that ordered the work to cease until the excavation was suitably planned, and edge protection was put in place. But when the inspector visited the site the next day, he saw that work had continued and that the company had still not put sufficient supports in place and was using a rope for edge protection.

Inspector Shorten told SHP: “Contractors must follow established engineering principles, including the design and installation on site of adequate temporary works. In this case, the sandy content of the soil made the excavation work particularly treacherous and there had already been a partial collapse in one of the pits. The firm ignored the terms of the Prohibition Notice and restarted the work on the same day that it was issued.”

JAS Truscott & Son Ltd appeared in court on 18 August and pleaded guilty to breaching section 33(1)(g) of the HSWA, for contravening a Prohibition Notice — fine £6500, reg.31(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to erect proper supports — fine £1000, and reg.6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 — fine £1000. It was also ordered to pay full costs to the HSE of £9526.

The firm mitigated that it had no previous convictions and had worked closely with the HSE to ensure that the project was concluded safely. It has subsequently made the decision to sub-contract a specialist company to carry out basement work on similar sites.

Inspector Shorten concluded: “Basement conversions are significant civil-engineering projects. They are not akin to normal extension work. If insufficient methods are used to support underpin excavations, then people’s lives can be put in jeopardy.”

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