Work halted on two-fifths of sites after HSE inspections in three London boroughs

Unsafe working practices have forced the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to halt work on nearly two-fifths of home refurbishments inspected in three London boroughs.

The credit crunch has led to a growing number of homeowners undertaking their own refurbishment work in a bid to save money, but spot checks in Camden, Barnet and Haringey by HSE inspectors found unsafe working practices rife at major domestic projects.

Of the 26 sites visited, 10 were served with prohibition notices, requiring work to stop immediately to avert the risk of personal injury. One improvement notice requiring safety standards to be improved was also served.

Both contractors and homeowners were found to be at fault, with inspectors finding a large variation in the competence of contractors, while some clients made projects more difficult for the contractor by changing designs once work was under way.

In one case in Camden, a basement was being dug as part of a new house construction without shoring to stop the sides collapsing or edge protection to prevent somebody falling in. The excavation also put a neighbouring house at risk of subsidence.

Scaffolding at a refurbishment in Barnet was found to be at serious risk of collapse, endangering passers-by, while at another site in the borough a freestanding scaffold was propped up unstably on bricks.

Safety inspector Simon Hester said: “The standards found at a significant proportion of the sites inspected were worryingly low, and put workers, homeowners, members of the public and the buildings themselves at significant risk.

“Health and safety at work is not rocket science - if the work looks unsafe it probably is.”