The Risks of Falling From Heights in Basement Projects

The Risks of Falling From Heights in Basement Projects

09th April 2015

As we revealed in our latest News Roundup last week, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has undertaken a two-day inspection initiative of basement projects in high value London boroughs during the second week in March. With the focus specifically on two boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea, the aim of the project was to improve safety in this increasingly popular basement sector of the capital.


The initiative was triggered by an unacceptable number of fatal incidents and serious injuries in basement refurbishment projects in recent years. The construction of basements under existing homes in London is on the rise as an increasing number of homeowners strive to maximise their living space without moving away from the area.


According to the HSE, this type of work can be technically challenging and is likely to carry significant risks as standards may be poor and contractors often neglect to appoint a competent temporary works engineer to design the appropriate propping to support both existing structures and the excavations in question.


Working in unsupported excavations carries specific risks and the precautions necessary to ensure the safe undertaken of the work are well known in the construction industry. However, during the past ten years, the HSE has received reports of 17 construction workers dying and 27 suffering serious injury as a result of excavation collapses.


Inspection teams concentrated on key safety issues that included:


  • Collapsing excavations
  • Risk of building collapse as a result of structural alterations or being undermined by excavation work
  • The dangers involved in dealing with heavy steel beams
  • Poor access
  • Risks presented by open or unprotected parts of a construction site
  • Poor welfare facilities
  • Lack of appropriate and adequate training

Shockingly, when the inspectors got to work they found that almost half of the domestic basement projects failed the unannounced safety checks. Enforcement action was taken at 48% of the sites checked. Of the 127 sites visited, 44 had Prohibition Notices served that required dangerous practices to stop immediately, 12 Improvement Notices were necessary requiring improvements to be made and 63 Notifications of Contravention were served identifying material breaches. Alarmingly, at two of the sites, conditions were so dangerous that inspectors closed the sites on the spot.