The edition broadcast on BBC2 on 10th March 2019 featured presenter Matt Le Blanc in a hole-digging contest against guest Matt Baker, more usually seen fronting The One Show. Each was at the controls of a JCB 3CX backhoe loader to see who could dig the deeper hole in 10 minutes. Referee for the contest was co-presenter Chris Harris.
While lay viewers might have found it entertaining, viewers who know anything at all about excavation were more likely to have been left aghast when it came time to judge the winner. Chris Harris clambered into each hole in turn to see which one was harder to see out of. (Matt Baker won by much more than a clear head.) There was no shoring nor any sign of other precautions being taken to prevent, or mitigate against, trench collapse.
Posts on LinkedIn reveal the depth of shock from the construction industry. Some could see little real danger in an unshored two-metre deep hole ("Flatten your feathers!" one commenter urged), and others assumed that it could not really have been as dangerous and stupid as the producers made it look. But those who actually know what they are talking about were unamused.
Graham Hall, managing director of Fussey Piling, called it “The most dangerous thing I have seen on TV. They have just had a presenter over two metres deep in an unsupported excavation. WTF. Absolutely shocking, who did their risk assessment?”
Carey Group pre-construction manager Nick Brooks agreed: “Saw this last night, was frightening.”
Mark Stevens, chartered safety and health practitioner at The Building Safety Group, said: “I was almost physically sick watching this last night. In fact I had to turn over straight away I couldn’t watch it anymore. I saw a friend die in a trench collapse in Iraq in 2004, Top Gear last night fully reminded me of that horrific day.
“There was absolutely no excuse for what they did last night on the show and there was absolutely no excuse for the BBC to allow showing it, utterly disgusting I hope the HSE pull their finger out and actually do something to the BBC and/or the production company involved.”
David Porter-Hallett, director at Gunite Solutions, also said that he hoped the HSE was watching.
Confined space specialist Lee Cannon said: “I too could not believe this idiotic act shown on prime time TV.”
Patterson Plant Hire owner David Patterson said: “Perhaps all is not as it appears. But just think about what the risk assessment for the rest of the show would look like.”
But this was not good enough for temporary works specialist Matthew Webb, who said: “This is horrific. It’s one thing being careless with your own life but cascading this kind of stupidity on national TV is beyond belief. If it transpires they didn’t actually enter the hole and it was video trickery, well that just opens up a bigger can of worms because they can’t blame it on sheer stupidity. I’ve spent my whole adult life finding solutions for safe excavation works and helping to educate workers on better temporary works support. They have at the bare minimum a duty of care to young impressionable viewers.”
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