After our interview with the family of Patrick O’Sullivan, who was killed on the Wembley site, a reader gives us his experience of a fatality during a concrete pour
Your interview with the widow of Patrick O’Sullivan dated Friday 16 July obviously stresses the emotions of Patrick’s wife Mary and children John, 33, and Maggie, 32. In the same issue, on page 52, Chris Hill wrote about the forthcoming corporate killing bill.
Mr O’Sullivan tragically fell from a platform tower, put in place by somebody else, while he was pouring pumped concrete. The risk involved with this method is tremendously high, and am sure the Health and Safety Executive will examine the methods in use at this work station.
Over the years, I have found pumping concrete to be fraught with risks – and I experienced this recently, when there was a fatal accident on the site where I work.
This involved pumping concrete in a high-risk area. In my opinion, it should never have been allowed to proceed in the first place.
I have not yet been called by the HSE to give my statement, although I suspect this will be needed in due course – especially since on the same site a week before, I witnessed another concrete contractor pouring pumped concrete into columns with rebar projecting three-quarters of a metre from the ground-floor slab, with men working off an unguarded platform.
This is not an isolated instance. On construction sites I have worked on over the past 40 years, have often witnessed similar short cuts being taken. I deal with these as best befits the situation at the time.
Of course, the understaffed HSE carries out as many fair investigations as it can, but it does not always track back to see whether “check and check again” procedures were applied on site on an hour-by-hour basis.
Reputable contractors will have the checklist required by the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations. However, I am sure they are not completed as often as they should be. I have many times seen these lists left unsigned, simply because the supervisors responsible for signing them were not brave enough, trained enough, paid enough or had time enough so to do.
The questions raised by both of these articles concerned who should be blamed for a site fatality.
The answer is: everyone.
Of course, reputable contractors will say that the individual worker on a construction site is responsible for their own individual safety. But this cannot be the whole story. The Health & Safety at Work Act, introduced in 1974, emphasised that any party immediately involved with an accident, especially one that involves a fatality, is guilty until they can reasonably prove they were innocent or unaware of the risks involved at that particular workstation.
And contractors must complete their checklists, and they must spend the time and money needed to educate workers about the specific risks associated with particular workstations and operations.
Does this responsibility extend to the boardroom? Although I have every sympathy with Mary, John and Maggie’s feelings, and their desire to see some company directors put behind bars, this is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in fatalities. In general, I must agree with Chris Hill’s statement that a significant reduction in fatalities is most likely to be achieved by transformation in individuals rather than corporations.
What I disagree with is Mr Hill’s statement that culture change should be top-down. It should begin simultaneously at the top, the bottom and the middle.
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Trickey's situations: The diary of a Devonshire property manager
We in the office have recently been mulling over who stands to benefit from Disability Discrimination Act. There are obvious advantages for those who'll have better access to properties, and there is no doubt that contractors will do well from all the extra work generated. However, the disadvantage of all this work is that we have opened ourselves up to a Dalek invasion.
We have just put in wide Dalek-friendly automatic doors with ramps, high-visibility buttons on lifts so they can see them from their single telescopic eyes and push them with their egg-whisk hands. Bear in mind that when the Daleks invaded London in the 1960s, the only reason that they did not achieve world domination was their inability to climb stairs, thereby allowing the remnants of humanity to gain the upper hand.
Meanwhile, progress on our floating gin palace by the river Exe (also known as the new fire station) has been scuppered once again. In true Trumpton style, firemen used to sleep in a dorm like one big cosy family. In these days of political correctness they all have individual rooms - but the fat controller of the fire service (John Prescott), has deemed this is not to be so, and that firemen should not sleep but work at night. We can’t progress until this is sorted out, so we're on hold until the battle is lost and won.
Meanwhile our architect, Richard, has informed me that I can’t have a grass roof on the new building because mowing it will contravene health and safety. I am not sure if we can graze sheep up there, but I'm consulting with some shepherds at the moment.
Greg Trickey works for Devon Fire and Rescue