In fourth of his diaries of a new home purchase, David Frise details how his builder consciously flouted health and safety laws

David Frise

I mentioned in my blog introducing this series that the builder of my new house – a major listed housebuilder – has shown a total disregard for health and safety.  My subsequent blogs detailed the firm’s construction failing and inability to provide me – the customer – with basic information about its performance and functionality.

But it’s time to come back to this disregard of health and safety. This came as a genuine shock. I have worked in construction for over 20 years and, genuinely, had not experienced this hugely disappointing lack of care.

Examples?  Well, let’s start with the windows.

The flats have tilt and turn full height windows. So, to stop people falling out glazed guards are fitted, which are half the height of the window and very heavy.

One has already fallen off – fortunately from a ground floor flat. A second was found to be loose. There are four floors in the block, so you can imagine the result if someone leans against a guard on the upper floors and it gives way.  Danger from above and below.

You would think this would trigger an immediate safety check of the 100 or so other guards.  Well you would be wrong. There is apparently no need to check as these two particular window guards were installed by a ‘rogue contractor’. That makes me feel so much better.

I’ve seen the ‘Building Log Book’ and it tells me they have inadequate records of the build, so how can they be so sure about this particular aspect? As I told one of the directors: “You surely don’t earn enough money to take this level of personal risk?”

It seems incredibly cavalier that the directors remain oblivious of their responsibilities - or simply choose to ignore them. Actually, as I have pointed out the former to them, it has to be the latter.

We have mice on the first floor. They must have come in through holes in the structure where the services penetrate. Begs the question how did the housebuilder pressure test the building? 

What else? The window installation company changed a window on the fourth floor using a cherry picker. The problem was that they waited until it was dark. It was also sited in a public car park and crossed a school footpath, which remained open so school children could walk under the platform. 

The residents on the floors below were not warned, so they could also walk under the platform as the window was hoisted into position.

I reported this incident to the housebuilder with photographs. The result: Nothing. In fact they didn’t even acknowledge my complaint, even after numerous chasing letters.

Ironically, when I asked to go onto the flat roof to see the solar thermal installation I was advised I would need to complete a £600 “safety course” first.

Anything else? Yes, actually. They took a year to produce a Legionella risk assessment and even then it was just the bare minimum as it only covered the public areas. Residents have received no advice about the risks or any precautions they should take.

We had a number of soil and vent pipe leaks into the undercroft basement car park. I cycled through a bad one (not recommended - contact with human faeces can damage your health). The plumber tried to blag my wife that the water was only shower waste. He claimed the toilets used a different system. 

My wife’s response: “Don’t p*** on me and tell me it’s raining”. She is a plumber’s wife after all. The builders have so little regard for the residents that they even refused to pay for water sampling to prove their claim that some of the leaks were rainwater not toilet water.

We have mice on the first floor. Intelligent creatures mice, but they didn’t take the lift and didn’t open the fire doors and climb the stairs to appear magically behind kitchen units. They must have come in through holes in the structure where the services penetrate. Begs the question how did the housebuilder pressure test the building? 

The builder thinks the residents are “over-reacting” and said “if you can locate the holes we will fill them”. My concern is that where the mice can go smoke can follow. Is our fire safety compromised? The fire at Lakanal House, where six people lost their lives in 2009, resulted from smoke passing between floors. We currently have two fire doors that do not shut fully. This was reported four weeks ago as a defect, but still has not been repaired despite numerous follow up reports from residents.

Do these companies never learn anything?

Over a third of the water meters have leaked causing water damage down the stairwells, which led to two fire alarm panels having to be changed. We thought this might prompt a product recall and replacement meters. Of course, we were wrong… again.

So despite bland published statements like “in managing health and safety we take a pro-active approach” and “the safety of you and your family is extremely important to us” the evidence would suggest that this approach either ends at handover or there is a cultural issue at this very large national housebuilder. How else could one explain such a blatant disregard of the safety of those to whom they owe a duty of care?  

David Frise is chief executive of the Association of Interior Specialists