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Construction giant and subcontractor in court after metal frame collapsed

03 February 2015

A leading construction firm and a concrete contractor have been fined after a metal frame collapsed at a site in Birmingham, knocking two workers from scissor lift platforms.

Bell Formwork Services had been subcontracted by Costain to build the metal frame for a concrete tank at a new pumping station and water treatment site at Frankley Water Treatment Works.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard on 2 February that two steel fixers, a 65 year old man from Brownhills, Walsall, and a 45 year old from Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire, had been raised nearly five metres above ground in separate scissor lifts to take measurements of the tank wall.

Shortly afterwards the wall of reinforcing bar collapsed, bending over in a wave-like motion, knocking over both scissor lifts with the operators still inside. The 65 year old steel fixer remained in his platform as it landed on its side and crashed into a nearby support frame. He suffered bruising and pain in his leg and shoulder. His colleague was propelled from his platform as it landed on its side against a nearby support frame. He suffered bruises to the head, legs and body. Three other workers on the ground took cover and avoided injury.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the incident on 12 November 2012 found both Bell Formwork and Costain had failed to ensure the workers were able to do their job in safety. HSE identified that the steel reinforcement for the tank walls, 21m long and 6.3m high, was unstable due to its size, the slenderness of the steel bars and the weight of the steel at a high level.

A temporary support should have been put in place every 7m. However, on the day only two support frames were used at 8.3m spacing, leaving a section of 8m unsupported.

HSE found principal contractor Costain did not plan, manage or monitor the work properly. They were aware of the risks of collapse and the need for temporary support, including from a similar collapse in March of the same year at another site. Despite this they did not apply their own temporary works management arrangements, which would have included a series of checks. Bell Formwork Services failed to ensure that all practicable steps had been taken to prevent danger to persons, to ensure the reinforcement did not collapse. They then did not take reasonable steps to prevent the collapse of the wall and failed to identify that support was inadequate because there was no managerial level supervision or monitoring during these early stages of the work.

Costain of Vanwell Business Park, Maidenhead, Berkshire, pleaded guilty to breaching the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1980. Bell Formwork Services of Pinchbeck Road, Spalding, pleaded guilty to a separate breach of the same regulations and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £1851 costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Luke Messenger said: "This was a serious incident and considering the size and weight of the wall, and the height from which the scissor lifts overturned, it is extremely fortunate that no serious or even fatal injuries occurred.

"Construction and related companies need to ensure that the same degree of care and attention is given to the design and construction of temporary structures as it is to the design and construction of permanent works. Everything must be properly planned so it can be carried out safely by their staff. Both companies were experienced in their industry and should have done better.”