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April 21, 2010

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Victorian-era conditions left workers up the creek without a Paddle

The HSE finally lost patience with a nationwide construction company, whose poor track record on site safety saw it notch up a catalogue of enforcement notices over a three-year spell.

Lancashire-based housebuilder Paddle Ltd was prosecuted after an unannounced HSE visit to a building site in Elgwys Brewis, St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan in December 2008. It followed a complaint from a member of the public.

Inspector Liam Osborne discovered inadequate or missing fencing to stop children, or other members of the public from gaining access to the site. He also found unsuitable sanitary and welfare facilities, with workers expected to eat, get changed, and shelter in a dirty, unheated caravan.

The inspector explained: “Paddle Ltd left its workers with the most appalling working conditions – the sort of things you might have expected to see in the 19th century, not the 21st century. There was no clean and appropriate toilet facility, and workers were often left in the freezing cold, or in wet conditions.

“The site was also very unsecure. During my inspection, children were playing nearby and could easily have just walked on to it, which, at the time, was full of construction machinery and excavations.”

Similar poor working conditions had been found on other Paddle sites across England, Scotland and Wales since 2005, resulting in inspectors serving multiple Prohibition and Improvement Notices for dangerous scaffolding, poor site welfare, unprotected excavations, and failures to secure and fence sites. Inspector Osborne said although the company seemed to have complied with the various notices at the time, the same types of issues kept occurring.

Inspector Osborne lamented: “What makes this case all the more disappointing is that Paddle Ltd had received a considerable amount of advice from HSE inspectors up and down the country. It appears the company has failed to heed HSE’s advice, which is why they have ended up in front of the courts.”

As well as failing to provide adequate site facilities for workers, and taking insufficient steps to prevent access by unauthorised persons to the construction site, the company also failed to prepare a suitable Construction Phase Plan to control the various risks on site.

Appearing in front of Barry magistrates on 19 April, the firm, which had been acting in the role of both client and principal contractor, admitted three breaches under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007: reg.9(1)(b), reg.16(a), and reg.22(1)(l). It was fined £3350 for each offence, and ordered to pay costs of £13,224.

Following the inspection, the company installed a welfare unit, with a heated water closet, as well as clean areas for eating meals and drying clothes. It also securely fenced off the site. Some months later it sent the inspector a copy of its Construction Phase Plan.

In mitigation, Paddle Ltd said it cooperated with the HSE, but the magistrates still delivered the maximum fine available at the time after taking into account the firm’s guilty plea.

Inspector Osborne concluded: “If, during inspections of construction sites, inspectors find serious problems that colleagues previously enforced on – whether on the same site, or on other sites in the country – we are very likely to be writing a prosecution report.”

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