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CROSS Safety Report

Unsafe working platform

Report ID: 1019 Published: 10 March 2022 Region: CROSS-UK

This report is over 2 years old

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A reporter came across an access platform supported next to an excavated foundation with unstable sides while carrying out an inspection on site. 

Key Learning Outcomes

For all who are on, or visit, construction sites:

  • Even simple works have the potential to cause serious injury or fatality
  • Unsupported trenches collapse
  • Propping should always be done using the proper equipment
  • Temporary works should always be co-ordinated
  • Be prepared to stop activities that appear to be dangerous

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During a routine site inspection of foundation trenches, workers were found erecting a wooden access platform balanced on a window ledge to allow replacement of a lintel at first floor level. The legs of the platform were perched on paving slabs at the edge of the foundation trench, the sides of which were unstable (Figure 1).

Figure 1: inadequate and unstable support to access platform

The platform was at high risk of collapse, although braced against the roof trusses on the inside. The property owner was advised of the situation and the workers were warned not to stand on the platform.

Expert Panel Comments

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Even simple works, when badly managed, have the potential to cause serious injury or fatality. Everyone on site, whatever its size, should be on their guard. Around six people per year die in collapsed trenches.

This is clearly an example of an absence of planning and where the solution lashed up on site was probably more difficult to build than it would have been to use the correct equipment. It is to the credit of the reporter that they were able to stop the work. The risk of multiple fatalities is clear and obvious. In the event of failure of the ground beneath the legs, anyone on the platform would have fallen, probably into the trench and possibly the lintel being installed would have fallen on to them, increasing the likelihood of death.

On the occasions when nothing goes wrong confidence is given to do the same next time. This makes it harder to get the message across that it's unsafe, particularly when the builder responds; "that's what we've always done".

There is an increase in the incidence of poor Temporary Works design and execution, fuelled by a proliferation of self-builders and small contractors who are not aware of the dangers of what they do, yet are let loose to do as they please. In a recent case a developer was fined £35,000 and a groundworks contractor £18,000 after an unsupported trench collapsed seriously injuring an employee.

Everyone on construction sites should always be aware of dangers and either stop the activity or immediately tell someone who has the authority to do so. Useful references are the HSE advice on Excavations and Temporary Works and the Temporary Works Forum.

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