09 February 2022
CNR Construction (CNR) was sentenced by the Royal Court on 28 January 2022 after pleading guilty to a breach of Articles 3 and Article 5 of the Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989 on 10 December 2021. A fine of £100,000 was imposed (£50,000 on each charge) together with a contribution towards costs of £5,000.
The prosecution followed a serious accident in which an employee of a local construction company, working under the direct control and instruction of CNR, sustained life changing injuries after falling approximately 12 metres when the temporary platform he was working on suddenly failed.
The accident happened on 4 February 2021 at the construction site known as ‘Ann Court’, Providence Street, St Helier where 165 flats are being built across five separate blocks. CNR, a French company, had been sub-contracted by Camerons, the principal contractor, to deliver the complex concrete work package for the project, i.e. design, supply and installation of the concrete works. CNR subsequently sub-contracted two companies to provide specialist labour, including RS Reinforcements Limited, a local formwork and steel fixing company and employer of the injured person.
The investigation into the accident identified serious failings on behalf of CNR in respect of the management and provision of safe systems of work for the assembly and installation of temporary working platforms on the site.
CNR personnel assembled and installed proprietary working platforms on site to a specific design to enable the concrete works to be carried out. The technical design drawings were prepared by a specialist CNR team based in France. On 2 February 2021 the CNR site management team agreed amongst themselves to install a longer working platform to the 4th floor of Block B than that specified on the technical drawings to provide access to the corner of the building. They did not refer this alteration to the specialist design team for review, as required by the company, explaining this was primarily due to being under pressure following a recent breakdown of the site crane.
The working platform extended a significant distance past the outermost supporting bracket designed to support the shorter platform, meaning approximately 2.5 metres of the platform was left overhanging free space. Acro props were installed from the balcony below in an attempt to provide additional support, but this did infer any support to the overhanging section. A safety critical ‘anti-tilt bar’ was also not engaged or checked following installation.
Several operatives worked on the temporary platform throughout the morning but, at approximately 13:30 and as two workers stepped off the platform, it suddenly became detached from the innermost supporting bracket and started to tip up and pivot on the outermost bracket. The whole platform slid sideways and dropped downwards before stopping in balance on the outermost bracket at an angle of about 45 degrees (see figure 1 and 2).
One worker still on the platform overbalanced as the platform tipped up, and he slid down the length of the platform. The guard rails protecting the end of the platform failed after becoming detached as the platform tipped and the worker fell approximately 12 metres to the road below (see figure 2).
Fig 1: The failed platform can be seen top centre of the photo
Fig 2: View looking down the failed platform top centre of the photo
The investigation identified a number of serious failings on behalf of CNR in respect of the management and provision of safe systems of work for the assembly of the temporary working platforms on the site, which should serve as a lesson for others.
When the company started work on the project, in July 2019, a structured hierarchy of site management was put in place to deliver the complex concrete works package. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit some 8-9 months later, significant restrictions were introduced, including restrictions on travel into and out of the Island with associated isolation requirements. CNR failed to assess or review the potential consequences of the challenges and increased risks posed by the pandemic, particularly the impact on the level of supervision and direct monitoring of the work arising from the restrictions, or disruption to the level of resource on the site.
The specialist platform assembly team returned to France earlier in the project than planned, agreeing that the untrained site manager could assemble the remaining platforms. The frequency of site visits by company representatives, including the health and safety manager, dropped significantly with the site team typically having to seek advice or discuss any challenges via conference calls rather than face-to-face as usual.
Managing movement of the workforce between Jersey and France became increasingly more difficult as Jersey and France imposed greater restrictions. As a result, the company effectively removed one level of senior site management as one manager was always in isolation, with an expectation that their responsibilities would be absorbed by the three remaining site-based personnel.
In the absence of effective supervision and monitoring of the operational site management from the company for months at a time, the risk of poor practice becoming widespread and ‘custom and practice’ was foreseeably high and, if realised, likely to remain unnoticed by the company for a protracted period. The geographical separation of the head office in France and operational site management in Jersey would only exacerbate this risk.
Following the accident, Camerons reviewed 34 platforms erected on site which identified a significant number of inconsistencies between the installation and the relevant design specification. This showed that the failure of the platform was not a result of a one-off error, but a symptom of systemic failures allowed to develop over a protracted period.
CNR also placed an overreliance on experienced employees to work safely. The site manager was left to assemble the platforms after the specialist team left site, and there was no documented safe system of work to ensure essential safety checks, including post installation checks, were carried out of the working platforms.
Falls from height remain a significant cause of work-related injuries and the risks associated with working at height are well known. This was a foreseeable tragic incident which resulted in needless life changing injuries and could have been avoided by properly planning the work to ensure appropriate safeguards, including adequate supervision and documented safe systems of work, were in place.
This case highlights the importance of competent persons assessing when changes have to be made to planned working arrangements, such the arrival of the pandemic in this instance. It is essential that careful consideration is given to the potential impact on the safety of those involved with the work, and all necessary steps taken to control any new significant risks identified.
Further guidance on the Health and Safety Management in Construction (Jersey) Regulations 2016 is available on the HSI website.