Development failings land multiple defendants in court

Five separate parties have been sentenced for allowing unsafe work practices and poor welfare standards at a construction site in Upper Norwood.

Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified a catalogue of issues at land belonging to a former church on Chevening Road in October 2012 after receiving complaints from a neighbouring school and a member of the public.

Four flats and four homes were being built at the site by Unicorn Services Limited, run by director Yi Long Chen and principal shareholder Mou Qiang Chen, on behalf of Chalice Homes Limited, run by sole director Steven Mooney.

All five appeared at Southwark Crown Court yesterday (9 February) after admitting breaching safety legislation and placing workers at unnecessary risk from injury or illness.

The court heard that failings at the site included:

A mini digger and dumper, both of which were poorly maintained, were left with the keys in the ignition free for anyone to use – despite the fact no-one at the site was trained or qualified to use them
There was no traffic management system, with nothing in place to segregate people from moving machinery – a failing exaggerated by the fact the site was next to a junior school
A raised storage area above a rest room was exposed and unguarded – meaning heavy items could have fallen onto workers below, as could anyone who accessed the area
The site manager was unqualified and could not speak English – so he was unable to communicate with site visitors or delivery drivers and provide any necessary safety briefings
There was no hot water, no wash area or washing up facilities, and no heating – with the general hygiene and sanitation standards described as wholly inadequate
There were no safety records or method statements for any work activity

The court was told that the Chens and Mr Mooney were well known to HSE after serious safety concerns were also noted at another construction site under their control.

In September 2011 HSE served eight Prohibition Notices to stop dangerous work at a site in nearby Sylvan Hill. It resulted in Unicorn Services being prosecuted and Mr Mooney, then the director of another standalone company set up for the development in question, receiving a written warning.

HSE told the court that despite this intervention, the poor safety and welfare standards at Chevening Road proved little had changed, and that it was indicative of a blasé attitude towards the wellbeing of workers.

Mou Qiang Chen, of Gonville Road, Thornton Heath, was fined a total of £2,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974.

Yi Long Chen, of Oriel Close, Mitcham, was fined £1,000 after pleading to a single Section 37 breach.

Their company, Unicorn Services Limited, was fined a total of £9,000 for two breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM Regs) and a single HSWA breach.

Steven Mooney, of a registered address on Croydon High Street, was fined £11,000 with £5,000 after pleading guilty to the same HSWA breaches as Mr Mou Qiang Chen.

Chalice Homes, which is no longer trading, was fined a nominal £200 for two further CDM Regs breaches.

All five parties accepted their respective charges on the first day of a trial last October after initially pleading not guilty when the case was first heard by Westminster Magistrates.

After sentencing HSE Inspector Andrew Verrall-Withers commented:

“Although nobody was harmed at the development site in question, the risks were clear – as evidenced by the fact that both the neighbouring school and a member of the public independently contacted HSE with their concerns.

“Given the long history of previous HSE enforcement and advice against the respective parties, the failure to protect workers, as well as others in the vicinity, was totally unacceptable.

“It is extremely disappointing that the defendants made the decision to plead not guilty, elect for a Crown Court trial and then cause numerous delays during the pre-trial procedures. The HSE case and weight of evidence was clear from the outset, and the attitude of only acknowledging any wrongdoing at the last possible moment – in this instance the first day of the trial – is telling.”