The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) finally prosecuted principal contractor Kubik Homes Ltd and subcontractor Bellway Developments Ltd after visiting the site on several occasions. Both companies were fined yesterday at City of London Magistrates' Court.
Kubik Homes Ltd had already been served with four prohibition notices, one of which was actually breached while HSE inspectors were on site.
The court heard there had been no safe access to the first floor under construction at the St Mary's Road site. Instead, there was a makeshift 'staircase' formed from a bag of sand and piles of blocks, leading to the roof of a hut.
The first floor was accessed from the hut roof via wooden planks, spanning the gap between them. There was no edge protection to prevent falls.
On a visit to the site, HSE inspectors noted an inadequate wooden gangway built the day before to provide access to the first floor. There was also a 2.5m-deep excavation with no guarding to prevent people falling into it or shuttering to prevent the sides collapsing in on anyone working within it.
The work areas around the site were uneven, littered with obstructions and trip hazards. Building materials had been stacked excessively high and stored haphazardly. Welfare facilities on-site were also extremely poor. The toilet was filthy and had a leaking cold water supply.
HSE served three prohibition notices to Kubik Homes ordering all work on site to stop until standards had been improved. On returning to the site, HSE inspectors found an attempt had been made to erect edge protection around the first floor, but it was inadequate. Representatives of neither company had sufficient training, experience or any recognised qualification in site management.
While inspectors were on site, two men were seen walking on the first floor in breach of one of the prohibition notices. It became clear that work was still continuing in an unsafe manner, so another prohibition notice was served to stop all work until competent site management was put in place.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE's inspector Loraine Charles said: "Although there was no incident, the potential danger to the workers was very high. Conditions on this site were simply appalling. This is a shocking example of bad management of a construction site and it is a miracle that no one was injured.
"Both these companies failed to understand the nature of their duties under health and safety law and failed to sufficiently improve conditions on the site despite repeated interventions by the HSE. We will not hesitate to prosecute companies that behave in this way."
Kubik Homes Ltd, of High Street, Wimbledon, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety etc at Work Act 1974. The firm was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,426.50.
Bellway Developments Ltd, of Coniston Road, Bromley, Kent, also pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Act 1974. It was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,384.50.