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May 14, 2010

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Design planning error led to building collapse

A worker was buried alive underneath rubble after part of an office block collapsed at a construction site in Lancashire.

On 14 October 2008, two sub-contractors were installing beam and block flooring on the second floor of the site in Kirkham. The men were attaching the flooring to a concrete block pillar, which was used to support the first and second floors. But the pillar was only resting on the ground floor and had not been secured as far down as the building’s foundations. Consequently, as they were installing the floor on the second level, the pillar gave way and both floors collapsed.

One of the men managed to hold on to a wall as the floors collapsed, but the other fell two floors and was buried underneath the rubble. He was freed by emergency services and was taken to hospital, where he underwent several operations to repair a broken leg.

Following an investigation the HSE prosecuted the building’s designer, Peter Wallace of the Wallace Partnership, and the principal contractor, Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd. Both were sentenced on 12 May, with Peter Wallace fined £4000 and ordered to pay £12,318 in costs, after pleading guilty to breaching s3(2) of the HSWA 1974. Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the same Act and was fined £3000 with costs of £12,318.

In mitigation, Wallace reported that work had started on the site before the final design plans were completed. He told the court that he would ensure that work would not begin on any future project until the final design plans have been reviewed and a safe method of work has been agreed.

Jack Smith (Builders) Ltd said it had no previous convictions and had followed the designs provided to them by Wallace. It believed Wallace was a competent designer but accepts that it should have reviewed the plans more thoroughly before starting work.

HSE inspector Allen Shute said: “One of the worker’s legs was badly broken after the rubble fell on him, but the consequences could have been much worse. This was a basic error, which should have been spotted by both the building’s designer and the principal contractor.

“It is common sense that the pillar supporting the floors should have gone into the foundations, and not just rested on the floor below. It’s vital companies learn lessons from this to prevent similar incidents happening in the future.”

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14 years ago

Given the basic error involved why was no-one prosecuted under the CDM regulations?

14 years ago

Interesting that the builder was held to account for this (patent) defect in design detail by others. Perhaps builders will be prosecuted if they start refurbishing a structure where the asbestos report is obviously inadequate!

Peter T
Peter T
10 years ago

Probably because the accident happened in 2008. New regulations only a year old (if that), no pre-existing Case Law, therefore high chances of case being contested. Basic error maybe, but fairly complicated to identify (and prove beyond reasonable doubt) which specific regulations (Under CDM) were breached. Usually it takes about 4 years before you see regular prosecutions under “new” legislation