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Firm in court after portable building collapses on churchgoers

Date:
19 February 2015

A Derbyshire company has been fined after a two-storey portable building collapsed while more than 30 children and parents were playing in the lower room.

South Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court heard the incident happened at Ashbourne Elim Pentecostal Church in Derbyshire while two volunteers – one of them partially sighted – were preparing parcels for the church’s foodbank in the upper cabin.

The two cabins had been refurbished and installed by Relocatable Building Systems Ltd in September 2013. A month later, on 24 October, both cabins dropped when a bolt on the jacking leg of the lower unit sheared off. The top part of the leg came out of the wooden frame, causing the collapse.

The upper cabin came to rest on the roof of the lower one at one corner, sending a number of food items falling off the shelves in the upper building. One of the volunteers suffered a bruised arm and, although no-one else was injured, all were badly shaken. Senior pastor, Rev Ben Brown said it was a ‘miracle’ the lower cabin had not collapsed on them.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had refurbished the buildings before their installation at the church. New inner sections of the jacking legs were installed but the original pins, used to adjust the height of the legs, could not be fitted due to the holes not being drilled to the correct size.  Instead,  smaller bolts, which were not designed for this purpose, were used, meaning they would fail at some time in the future.

An Improvement Notice was served by HSE on Relocatable Building Systems Ltd requiring the company to develop safe systems of work to ensure refurbished buildings were safe. Both cabins at the church were repaired and reinstalled.

Relocatable Building Systems Ltd, of Hilton Industrial Estate, Sutton Lane, Hilton, Derby was fined a total of £8,000 with £1,589 costs after admitting two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Steve Shaw said:

“This was a terrifying incident for those involved and left a lot of people scared and upset.

“During installation the company should have carried out a final check to ensure all the work had been completed and the two cabins were bolted together safely. It is very lucky that the top cabin stayed in contact with three of the jacking legs as this prevented the full weight coming to rest on the wooden frame of the lower unit where children were playing. The wooden frames are not designed to take the weight of an upper unit so it could have quite easily come crashing down with horrific consequences.

“The collapse could have been avoided by Relocatable Building Systems had the refurbishment been undertaken in a suitable manner using the same or better specification material as the original.

“The church was unable to rent out the rooms while they were away being fixed and when they were reinstalled some months later, there was a lot of suspicion and doubt about their safety from the community the church serves.”

Senior Pastor, Rev Ben Brown, whose wife and two-year-old son were in the lower room at the time of the incident, said:

“It was a complete miracle that it did not fall further but came to rest where it did. Another half inch and the consequences would have been devastating. I think someone was certainly looking after us that day.

“It was horrific. The community’s confidence in the church was destroyed through no fault of our own and we had to build that trust back up again. There is still some suspicion and a few people still refuse to go in the buildings, even though they’ve been back in place for over a year. There’s no doubt our relationship with the community suffered as a result of what happened.”

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. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.Section 3(1) of the same Act states: It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.
  3. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

 

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