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October 18, 2013

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Firm fined over ‘Dickensian’ conditions


The Harris InstituteA construction firm has been fined after it allowed subcontractors to carry out refurbishment work in ‘Dickensian-like conditions’ for nearly seven weeks. 
RNT Developments and Construction Ltd brought in roofers, damp treatment experts, electricians, joiners and plasterers to work on the nineteenth century Harris Institute — a former dance academy in Preston — but failed to provide basic facilities for workers.
The issue was spotted during a month-long initiative carried out earlier this year where HSE inspectors made unannounced visits to 2,363 sites where refurbishment or repair work was taking place. One in five construction sites were served with enforcement notices after failing health and safety checks.
Preston Magistrates’ Court heard that refurbishment work had started on the Avenham Lane building on 3 January 2013, but the HSE were not alerted to the absence of amenities until an inspector visited the site on 19 February.
During this time, a dry rot treatment subcontractor had filled six skips with plaster from the walls, with other contractors removing rotten timbers and floor boards in dusty conditions. Due to the lack of toilets and running water on-site, workers had to use wet wipes and paper towels to clean themselves, and leave the site to find toilets elsewhere in the city. 
Magistrates were told that the three-storey building had been empty for two years before the work started and the water supply had been turned off, which meant the existing toilets could not be used. The temperature inside the building was also bitterly cold.
Speaking to SHP, HSE inspector Stuart Kitchingman said that the water and electricity supply should have been reinstated and that welfare facilities should always be considered at the planning stage, prior to any work starting. 
On 16 October 2013, RNT Developments and Construction Ltd, of Sheldrake Road in Broadheath, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Regulation 13 (7) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
Following the hearing, Kitchingman, said: “It would have been easy for RNT to reinstate the existing welfare facilities in the building, but instead the firm allowed work to be carried out in grimy and dusty conditions for nearly seven weeks without access to the most basic facilities.
“It’s totally unacceptable in the 21st Century to find Dickensian-like conditions. In fact, it’s a legal requirement that workers aren’t treated in this way. The working conditions were archaic — more like they would have been when the building was first erected in Victorian times — and will no longer be tolerated in the 21st Century.
“RNT should have made sure there were welfare facilities on the site before it allowed the refurbishment project to start. Instead, workers had to face needlessly unpleasant conditions over several weeks.”
In mitigation the company entered an early guilty plea and co-operated fully with the investigation. As a result of the notice being served the facilities were improved. A chemical toilet was brought in as a temporary measure and the water supply was reinstated. 

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Adrian Sutton
Adrian Sutton
10 years ago

Most insurers view unoccupied properties as a poor risk. If they are prepared to offer cover for unoccupied property, this is often conditional on all utilities being switched off. The presence of contractors doesn’t make the buildings occupied and normally wouldn’t remove the condition for the utilities to be switched off.

10 years ago

Agree with Mark, surely there must be a case here for procecuting the Client and the CDM Coordinator (if there was one appointed). The Client under Reg 9.1(b) and/or 16(b), and the CDM Coordinator under Reg 20.1(a).

10 years ago

Why was this not picked up by the client under CDM?

The question I would ask is why do tender stage not have more focus, or even a standard document, where pricing for welfare is indicated and more importantly what is going to be used for welfare is listed.

This can be said for many activities and also points to no progress meetings etc. being held for monitor/review so a big failing for client too

Looks as though all down to price again?

The tender stage really does require far more focus.

10 years ago

Nothing new then, loads of companies operate like this.