HSE inspectors took enforcement action for serious safety failings on more than a third of sites visited during a recent initiative to improve standards on basement construction sites.

Inspectors visited 109 sites in four London boroughs – Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster and Wandsworth – on 15 and 16 November. They took enforcement action at 40 sites (37%), serving a total of 76 notices.

At four projects, conditions were so dangerous that inspectors closed the sites. More than half of the prohibition notices served dealt with real risks of workers falling from height, either into unfenced excavations or through unprotected floor openings.

HSE has now arranged a free awareness event open to all those involved in basement construction, including contractors, project managers and designers, on 19 January 2012 at Wandsworth Town Hall.

Some firms were getting the basics of basement construction right. Examples of good practice highlighted by HSE included:

* making use of temporary works engineers to detail the required shoring;
* the construction of partial-height underpins to reduce the risk of excavation collapse;
* designers and contractors specifying splices or composite beams to reduce the weights of beams that have to be manoeuvred into position; and
* the construction of temporary welfare facilities in front or rear gardens and the hiring of self-contained portable welfare units.

HSE Principal Inspector Andrew Beal said: “Safety standards in many basement projects are well short of acceptable, as our inspection initiative shows. Companies constructing basements must not be complacent about the risks. We encourage contractors, project managers and designers, to attend our free event in January and learn from those in the industry who are already working safely.”