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Building sub-contractor’s safety neglect led to his own injuries

Date:
29 July 2014

A Newton Abbot building sub-contractor who suffered a fractured spine while demolishing a temporary school classroom near Exmouth in Devon, has been fined for safety failings that could have also put the safety of others in danger.

William Batten (66), trading as Bill Batten Concrete Cutting and Demolition Service, was injured when he removed key timber supports at the corners of the roof,  destabilising it and causing it to collapse on top of him. The collapse was witnessed by schoolchildren in a nearby playground on their lunch break.

Mr Batten suffered a fractured vertebrae and neck injury. He was hospitalised for a week but has since returned to work undertaking light duties.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found Mr Batten had started work he was not supposed to. It identified that the roof of the temporary classroom had been supported by timber in each corner. Steel fixtures had been inserted to add additional structural support for the windows, but not the roof.

North and East Devon Magistrates’ heard today (29 July) that Mr Batten’s firm had been contracted to demolish two buildings at Lympstone Church of England Primary School.

A ‘soft strip’ of the temporary classroom took place on 11 June 2013 and demolition of the main structure by mechanical means was to be carried out on the following days when Mr Batten’s son, business partner and planner of the work, returned from leave. A further risk assessment and method statement was to also be submitted prior to the structural demolition going ahead.

However, after Mr Batten had finished the ‘soft strip’ with two labourers, he decided to undertake further stripping work, including the removal of the timber supports to the corners and cladding.

Mr Batten wrongly assumed that steel stanchions supporting the windows were holding up the roof when in fact they were not.  When the wooden struts to the corners of the building were removed, the roof became unstable and collapsed. The two employees narrowly escaped harm but Mr Batten, was trapped underneath the roof for several hours.

William Melvin Batten, trading as Bill Batten Concrete Cutting and Demolition Service, of Exeter Road, Kingsteignton, Devon, was fined £500 and ordered to pay costs of £868.90 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 29(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after sentencing HSE inspector James Powell, said:

“William Batten failed to ensure the demolition of the temporary classroom was carried out without presenting a danger to anyone, including himself and two employees. The work had been properly planned, by his son and partner, in advance and had the work been carried out in that manner, this incident would not have happened.

“He had not demolished a classroom like this one before but he was aware that he was only to undertake a soft-strip and that he knew the main structure was going to be brought down with a machine at a later date – once the inside had been cleared.

“But after stripping the internal fixtures, Mr Batten continued to strip the building, wrongly assuming that the steel fixtures supporting the windows were holding up the roof. The two other employees on site at the time were extremely lucky to have escaped with no injuries.

“Demolition, dismantling and structural alteration are high risk activities which require careful planning and execution by trained demolition operatives under the supervision of a competent person.”

Information on construction site safety and demolition work is available on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction

Notes to Editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 29(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 states that: “The demolition or dismantling of a structure, or part of a structure, shall be planned and carried out in such a manner as to prevent danger or, where it is not practicable to prevent it, to reduce danger to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.”
  3. HSE news releases are available at press.hse.gov.uk

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