In an article posted on Lexology in October of 2018, we learn about a mason (Betterlay Brick and Block Laying) who’s workman suffered a workplace injury when the wall they erected collapsed because it lacked the required steel reinforcing.
The story comes from Australia and summarizes a case where Betterlay was found guilty of failing to observe Workplace Health and Safety regulations. The infraction committed by Betterlay was failing to properly reinforcing the wall.
Betterlay was fined $35,000 for their oversight.
What is significant about this story is not that Betterlay attempted to build a wall that lacked reinforcement, nor that an injury occurred because of their negligence.
This story is significant because after they committed these infractions, they appealed the decision claiming they were not contracted to insert the steel and therefore were not responsible.
The court rightfully rejected the argument citing that Workplace Safety is a duty that cannot be delegated. The Court also said that proceeding with the erection of the wall with full knowledge that the reinforcement was not there, caused the failure.
Imagine a mason who knowingly erects a wall without proper reinforcement? It happens more often than you might think.
Remember the Cole Report?
In June of 2018 I shared with you the findings of the a comprehensive report issued by Professor John Cole CBE RIBA. Professor Cole’s report chronicled the spectacular collapse of improperly constructed masonry walls at several public schools in the UK.
Cole reviewed the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary School in the UK. Cole then proceeded to inspect 17 other schools and subsequently caused them all to be temporarily closed after finding the same improper masonry work at all 17 schools.
The Cole report revealed a lack of steel reinforcing at all 17 schools and cited a lack of oversight as the root cause.
In both of these examples we can see the unfortunate, but prevailing sentiment expressed by many contractors alike, “it’s not my problem”…until it is…
Remember the collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University?
On July 2019 the Miami Herald reported that a settlement had been reached between the 8 victims and 23 out of 24 defendants for a sum total of $42 Million.
Initial reports indicated that cracking began to appear on the bridge as construction was ongoing. The cracks were found and reported by one of the victims Navaro Brown who was killed in the collapse.
According to reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the bridge design was flawed from the start.
The collapse was later triggered when workers attempted to re-tension reinforcing cables in the structure. Louis Berger Group (now part of WSP) was hired to verify the bridge design, but failed to notice the design flaws.
Now Berger remains as the lone hold-out from the 24 defendant. Berger has failed to comment, but presumably feels they should not be held liable for FIGG Engineer’s flawed design.
Collapses like the FIU Bridge are generally rare, but they occur throughout the world.
In an October 2018 article from Lexology, Michael Tooma and Johana Lawlor of Clyde and Co LLP report an increase in construction deaths throughout the APAC region.
Tooma and Lawler indicate that while overall workplace fatalities are dropping, the number of fatalities from safety breaches in construction have been rising.
To illustrate their point, Tooma and Lawler call attention to the collapse of the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) viaduct at Upper Changi Road East in Singapore.
Similar to the FIU collapse the PIE collapse occurred while the bridge was under construction and it was triggered by workmen who attempted to “strengthen” a portion of the structure.
In both cases, workers noticed cracking in the structure and in both cases a lack of prudence and proper attention to the cracking allowed injuries and a workman’s death to occur.
Tooma and Lawler go on to cite an increased diligence on the part of government agencies to crack down on callous WHS violations. It should be noted however that the fine imposed on Kim Peow Contractors (the lead contractor involved with the PIE collapse) was a mere 10,000 Singapore dollars (the equivalent of $7,230.25 USD). This seems hardly enough for allowing the death of a worker.
The bottom line here is that workplace safety is not just one person’s responsibility.
Everyone from Laborers to Architects have a fundamentally principle duty to ensure everyone on a construction site is safe.
It’s not okay to erect a wall knowing that reinforcing steel is missing. That statement holds even when someone else is pressuring you to get it done.
It’s not okay to ignore signs of structural failure and send workmen out on the structure. That statement holds even if you were not the engineer of record.
No matter what role you play, construction work is inherently dangerous. Schedule is NOT the top priority. Budgets are NOT the top priority. The singular number one priority for everyone involved in construction is safety.
It is not the “other guy’s” responsibility. It is YOUR responsibility.
What about you? Who do you think is responsible for job site safety? Have you ever stopped someone from doing work in an unsafe manner? Tell me your stories.
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