A call for improved protection of building workers made to the Inspector on the last day of the Whitgift Centre CPO has the backing of Croydon TUC.
In his closing submission on Friday 13 March Sean Creighton reported that while the Inquiry was in session on 10 March Westfields Shoppingtowns Ltd was fined £10,000 by Westminster Magistrates after a worker suffered a fractured shoulder in a fall during construction of a roof extension at White City mall on 20 December 2013. The prosecution was conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
- ‘This is a reminder that it is dangerous to accept generalised statements about the expertise of developers without drilling down into the detail of their actual operational track record.’
- ‘Given construction sites are dangerous places it is important that the human rights relating to health and safety of workers are of paramount consideration.’
Accidents at Westfield Stratford
Sean Creighton cited:
- During the official opening event at the £1.4 billion Westfield centre, a 5ft by 2.5ft glass ceiling tile fell 30 feet and smashed in front of London Mayor Boris Johnson.
- A few days before a worker received a massive electric shock and fell from a ladder, suffering serious burns and other injuries.
- And days before that a 21-year-old electrician also fell from a ladder, sustaining serious back injuries.
- ‘Colleagues said that some workers had been doing 15 hour shifts in the rush to meet the completion deadline. The site had already claimed a life. In December 2009 Firesafe Installations employee Shaun Scurry, 39, died a week after being trapped between a steel beam and a scissor lift.’
In a statement on Westfield Stratford’s opening day the construction workers trade union UCATT:
- had called ‘for far higher levels of safety awareness on the final stages of major retail projects’.
- had stated that ‘In the final stages of the project there have been 8,000 workers on the site, the vast majority of whom were shop fitters. The site has 300 shops. Rather than being one major project it has effectively been 300 small projects.’
- had ‘been taking a proactive and preventative role in reducing accident risks on the site.’ The UCATT convenor on the site had been working seven days a week to ensure that workers were not being placed at risk.’
Complexity of Building in Croydon
Sean Creighton went on to suggest that the construction of the new Croydon Whitgift ‘it is likely to be a more complex …. than for example Westfield Bradford, Derby and Stratford, as it involves demolition, the shoring up of facades, interconnectivity with neighbouring buildings, as well as new build. The dangers on the Whitgift site are likely to be greater, along with any potential dangers to the public as they pass by the construction sites.’
Arguing that building workers need to be reassured that Westfield has learnt from the incidents at Stratford and is in the process of tightening up its safety procedures, he asked the Inspector to consider recommending that the Secretary of State modify the CPO to require CLP:
- to submit to the Health & Safety Executive and UCATT their safety policies pinpointing the improvements taking into account the incidents at the Westfield Stratford site.
- to establish proper negotiating arrangements with UCATT over the problems involved in the construction, and to enable site surgeries by the union of safety.
The dangers of sub-contracting
CLP (Westfield/Hammerson Partnership) propose to contract with Westfield Design and Construction to design and construct the proposed scheme and act as ‘Principal Contractor’. Sean Creighton suggested that this means that Westfields will be sub-contracting to several specialist companies, including for demolition. This makes the management job more complex. There may be further complexities, leading to potential dangers, if building workers are engaged by umbrella companies. Because it appears these only pay the national minimum wage and some offer only zero hours contracts, there is an incentive on building workers to work extra hours increasing the risk of accidents. This was an issue when Westfield Bradford site’s construction phase began with UCATT members ‘reporting problems with false self-employment and pay roll companies on the site.’
In view of the Croydon Council aim to have employers pay at least the London Living Wage, he asked the Inspector to consider recommending that the Secretary of State modify the CPO to require CLP to only use construction firms that employ their own workers and do not use umbrella companies; and to require construction firms to pay at least the London Living Wage.
Both proposals were backed by Croydon TUC’s AGM on 12 March when Sean Creighton reported as convenor on the work of its working party on the Council’s Growth Plan and its Croydon Assembly local economy working group, and on his evidence to the Inquiry.