One witness was so alarmed that they filmed the men working and sent the images to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
Clerkenwell-based JOS Scaffolding Ltd was prosecuted yesterday (4th June) on the strength of the photographic evidence and a subsequent HSE investigation into safety failings.
JOS was working in Tavistock Street in London’s Covent Garden last year.
Westminster Magistrates Court heard the firm was responsible for erecting a five-storey scaffold that was some 10 metres above street level once complete.
The unsafe work was during the initial construction phase as the structure took shape. Pictures showed workers using unsecure and precariously balanced boards to access and pass materials to higher levels. They also showed a worker sitting near the top of the structure casually dangling his legs over the side.
Magistrates were told there was nothing in place at this point of the work to prevent or mitigate a fall of persons or equipment or materials. This in turn put anyone walking underneath or alongside the scaffold at risk.
HSE established the work was poorly planned and managed, and that two of the three-man team erecting the scaffold were lacking training and accreditation to prove their competence.
The work fell well below the legally required standard – although both HSE and the court acknowledged that efforts had been made to improve standards once the failings were brought to the company’s attention.
JOS Scaffolding Limited, of Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1, was fined a total of £5,000 and ordered to pay £734 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
HSE inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers said after the hearing: “Scaffolding work is fraught with risk and can be extremely dangerous if it isn’t carried out properly. The standards here were sorely lacking and the photographic evidence speaks for itself in terms of the risks taken.
“None of the missing measures, such as guard rails and secured boards and ladders, were difficult to provide, and there was no excuse. It isn’t just the workers themselves who could end up getting seriously hurt or killed. People should be able to walk along a pavement without having to worry about a piece of scaffold slipping from the hands of an overhead worker.
“Thankfully nobody was injured, but that doesn’t detract from JOS Scaffolding failing to ensure the work at height was properly planned, managed and executed in a safe manner. I would like to thank the concerned member of the public who brought the matter to our attention and who provided such clear visual evidence.”