A Building is a Building Right? Not When it Comes to Renovation.

Preserving our building heritage is not only a worthy endeavour but it can be financially rewarding. It is not cheap to renovate  or restore the structures of the past and when you are dealing with a large ancient pile there are specialist health and safety issues to be considered. You can go from working on an ultra modern project, like the ones I have tackled recently, to the resurrection of a 19th century mill, but don’t take the task lightly.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

We don’t want them to fall down that is the point of renovation but a key to safe working is realising that what went up, went up in a very different way to how it would go up today. Get it wrong and it can come down fast. I was working with a friend on a 18th century cottage when I first came across our ancestors way of making the exterior walls solid. They built the walls and filled the gaps with rubble.  As you remove the outer skin of carefully placed blocks you come to a vertical slag heap. Over time the fist sized stones have settled and gravity can give the unwary the idea of permanence. In fact it is like playing Jenga after betting your hands. If you take out the wrong point, at the wrong time, it leads to ‘shuttering’ and boy you need to get out of the way quickly, literally the lot can come down.

picture of an old mill in need of renovation.
Click here for the full article on health and safety working on old buildings. Picture from the article.


We were putting a door in at the time, one that would lead to a conservatory. It did get done but not before  a lot of dust had carried off a lot of cursing.

On several other projects I would stand back and wonder how they hoisted quarter ton slabs of stone into a tight corner or an elaborate block up and out on a gable end.

Later Additions, Modern Headaches

Sometimes the rules about what you can and cannot do with an old building are frustrating I know, however, they have brought some benefits. Back in the day if you had a dusty and neglected warehouse you could add what you liked to it. Indeed you could also rip out what you wanted, block staircases off, fill in windows and install whatever materials you liked.

The problem with the free hand that you had in the 50s and 60s was that roof access could be restricted and asbestos was used as additional construction was undertaken without any thought for the future.

It is almost as though you need a thorougher understanding of how to build the old way before you can adapt a building to operate in the modern age. There is a good reason it seems this way and that is because it is that way. When it comes to health and safety and old buildings…We need to understand the game just the same as the designers and builders on these renovation projects.

Safety and Efficiency

In that order, but as I always say though the principle of safe working first is not negotiable only a dreamer could last in this industry without realising you have to be innovative and aware of the operational needs of the client. This is doubly so in projects involving ancient buildings. One man who really seems to have a grasp of this field is James Woolgrove. I recently re-read an article in which he tells Health and Safety magazine about the unique challenges of these sort of projects. I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of operating in this area of expertise.

I will always remember that first taste of old time wall building not because that made me an expert, but because it taught me a principle. The tools and some of the working practises might not have changed much but the attitude, materials and problem solving of years ago can throw you a health and safety curve ball unless you are aware of them.

Full article in Health and Safety magazine Click Here

Australian Company Gets its Own Shock in the Pocket.

From building new projects to recovering a truck in the frozen north on a dark snow swept night, if you hear or see power lines stop and have a good think.  There are times I write and try hard not to let smug hindsight creep in.  However, when it comes to injury caused by electricity leaping from power lines hindsight has nothing to do with it. In the news today is a case in point, WGA Pty Ltd has 28 days to lodge an appeal against a fine of 1 million Australian dollars.

In 2014 they were given advice about the risks of working near a 33,000 volt power line that served the Illawarra train line in New South Wales. The residential construction that they were working  on in South Hurstville, Sydney, was at the point of having aluminium window frames fitted. Initial reports in The Leader suggested that a 49 year old installer had been moving a section of frame and it hit the nearby cables. In the report of the enquiry in The Construction Index today it states that the power arched to strike the framework and the worker received 30% burns.

Hillside shot down to the sea on the right showing the rail line and overhead cables.
This picture shows another section of the line with the power line layout. Take from Wikipedia thanks to Klaus-Dieter Liss

It was shown that a  SafeWork NSW inspector and Sydney Trains had given the firm plenty of advice about working safely on the exterior of the apartment block. Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Matt Kean praised SafeWork for bringing the prosecution. He also said the case highlighted the need for safe working around power cables. It was 2014, we should have learned by then, shouldn’t we?


Chris Hodge

Full article Click Here

For more case study articles see the below:

The Worst Health and Safety Fail that Looked Safe. Click here

‘It Will Be Right’ Trench walls and excavators increase the risk. Click here

It Will Be Right. Firm Fined After Worker Buried in Trench Collapse

I hope my meagre attempts to highlight failings in health and safety convey my intentions. Each incident shows what can go wrong, each incident is a lesson and a reminder. I work for firms and work with people who have a job to do. My job is to minimise the risks. Articles like this are not about hammering errant operators or criticising mistakes with the full force of hindsight. I just hope that by expanding the reach of tragic cases we can collectively prevent them happening again. This one is a case of ‘ It will be right.’

A nine foot deep trench that was being dug for drainage collapsed on a worker as he was guiding an excavator. The 43 year old was working for Wallace Roofing & Building Ltd who are based in Fife, Scotland. The drainage was needed to connect a new extension on an old property but the job was obstructed by a large boulder. The worker got down and was guiding the excavator when the unsupported wall caved in. Colleagues managed to dig him clear enough to breath until emergency services arrived.  His injuries included a puncture to both lungs.

It took 6 years to get the ruling and a fine of £14,000 was imposed. A Unite spokesman, Steven Dillon, criticised the fine on the grounds that it was too small to send a strong enough message. I don’t disagree with him in principle, however, my concern is more simple. Trench walls can collapse, we know this. The older ones amongst us need to tell the youngsters and we should have it in our minds moment to moment.  In addition to the risk posed by the trench walls here a digger was added. The extra weight and vibration should have sounded alarm bells.

‘It Will Be Right’

I admire a can do spirit. Really I am in awe sometimes of the people who put things up and dig things down, but into many is set this attitude of ‘ It will be Right.’ Weight, vibration and an unstable, unsupported trench or tunnel…don’t get in it and don’t let anyone else get in it. It won’t always be right.’


Chris Hodge

Full article Click Here

See similar case study articles:

Water Risks. The Worst Health and Safety Fail that looked Safe. Click here

Australian Firm Fined for Power Line Injuries. Click here

The Worst Health and Safety Fail That Looked Safe

That is a bold statement and to be honest I would accept arguments on other cases without much protest. For me, the worst health and safety fail that looked safe happened to Archie Tyler in 2001.

Mr Tyler was a watershed maintenance worker in the Bronx, New York. This 43 year old guy was dispatched with colleagues to the Jerome Park Reservoir.  Jerome Park is in the Bronx and the reservoir is about a football field in size. It was built in 1906 as part of the water supply system for the New Croton Aqueduct.

Aerial Google shot of Jerome Park water and surrounding urban housing.
Thanks to Google maps, all rights reserved. Jerome Park where Archie Tyler died while just doing a routine job.

By the time Mr Tyler arrived on that awful day the water was about 2 feet deep and it was seen as a risk. Not that it seemed a risk to the workers. The concern was that mosquitoes would breed and spread the West Nile River Virus. At 08.30 am the three man crew took to a small boat and paddled out to where the central drain was located. This had become clogged with debris and needed clearing. Mr Tyler got out of the boat and using a rake began to move the obstruction.

The drain, which had no grating, led to a 20 inch pipe. Once it was cleared the water surged into the new opening.

So there was the scene. Mr Tyler was held by his colleagues as the pressure tried to force him into the pipe. What could they do? They were in a boat and could lend no purchase, the bottom of the reservoir was algae covered and slippery.

Fire service personnel found Mr Tyler’s body when they accessed the drain via a maintenance hatch. He had been sucked down 15 feet and then into a connecting pipe, he had then been dragged 200ft until his body was lodged at a bend.

Union local President Ed Bennett said, ‘ If you saw the drain and the water, you really wouldn’t expect that cleaning the drain could put your life at risk. Still, DEP ( Department of Environmental Protection) had a responsibility to evaluate the job for any possible hazards, which could have prevented this tragedy.’

The Tragic Fact: Water, Fire, Weight, Height and Electricity Kill

It is the terrible consequence of being taken into that pipe that haunts me a little bit. I am not going to speculate on exactly what happened after Mr Tyler went under. I have looked for the findings of the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau investigation and I cannot locate it online. At the time the local DEP were criticised for not providing a tripod support for harnesses and for providing no information about the risks involved ahead of time. I can’t comment on if they were finally found at fault. I can say that in 2 foot of water nothing usually looks dangerous.

Now I have heard this story of course my approach would be cautious.  Unfortunately that is how health and safety has progressed. Our own safety has often been assured because of people like Archie Tyler. Honestly speaking? If I had been on that crew on that day in 2001, I might have been the one with the rake, all the while thinking, ‘ This won’t take long.’


Chris Hodge

References: Local Union article Click Here 

New York Times article Click Here 

Here are some other case study articles.

Australian Firm Fined 1m Aus Dollars. Click here

‘It Will Be Right’ Trench walls and excavators increase the risk. Click here


Family Deals with the Tragedy of Missing Oil Worker

Currently the search is still on for a 49 year old North Sea oil worker who has not been seen since 21.20 hours on Tuesday. Steve Sutherland was operating on the Noble Lloyd Noble installation, 90 miles miles east of Shetland.

picture of a middle aged man smiling into the camera
‘Steve is a much-loved and well-respected father, grandfather, partner, son, brother and uncle, adored by his children Morgan, Lenah and son Joe, and doted on by his four grandchildren.

There appears to be no suspicious circumstances and his disappearance is not linked to a workplace incident at this time. The larger scale search was scaled back on Wednesday and his next of kin have been paying tribute to the much loved Aberdeen man.

Det Insp Norman Stevenson, who is leading a team of officers flown out to the rig said: ‘An extensive search has been carried out which has involved a search and rescue helicopter as well as standby vessels and a platform supply vessel.’

map showing the location of the rig east of Shetland
Mariner field operated by Statoil where the rig is located.

The rig is a jack up drilling platform. Operations were halted while the search went on. I can only hope that some peace and closure is found for all concerned.

Reference BBC Click Here

North Sea Decommissioning Opportunities Linked to Retiring Specialists

It is with a touch of regret that a North Sea decommissioning boom is seen as a positive thing. I know the cycle of life in mortals and engineering follows the same path but still I would rather report about upgrading and investment. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess and so may retirement and redundant platforms.

satellite view of the north sea with Europe and the UK shown.
NSA photograph of the North Sea where lies a potential clear up boom.

For sometime those of us with a North Sea background have been  casually watching for opportunities in decommissioning. Being a specialist area, however, the jobs go to those with direct experience. Sure, transferable skills can be adapted to a reversal roll, but still openings are rare.

The North Sea is Literally Littered with Work

According to Boston Consulting Group Director Philip Whittaker, the door to more opportunities in this field may be on the horizon. Rigzone has the full article and I will not steal their thunder so the link is below. In short, decommissioning crews have enough skilled people to cope with the work load. What the article suggests is that at some stage the 500 plus installations out there will need to be tackled and many of the top operators are approaching retirement age.

In addition to the fixed installations there are about the same number of sub sea ones with an estimated 10,000 wells to be sealed. I would hate to foot that bill and in some regards the sooner these issues are tackled the cheaper it will be. As always these days only time will tell.

Rigzone article Click Here 

The Bishopsgate Crooked Crane Solution.

Littered around the internet are examples of what happens when an operator gets the science of cranes wrong. The impact that a disaster can have obviously kicks the subject firmly into my own field. The best way of handling gravity and sizeable weight is to stick to the design limits of the machinery used. The Bishopsgate crooked crane is a great example of looking at safety and operational necessity  and THEN coming up with a workable solution.


Favelle Favco are a crane manufacturer with a reputation for delivering rapid lifting for skyscraper projects. In the congested streets of London a mega crane could cause chaos because of the space it needs. Multiplex are putting up an 840 ft high structure for AXA Investments at 22 Bishopsgate. A 20 degree off vertical section allows the crane to sit within the site perimeter and operate ‘ out and up’.

picture of acrane using a lower section that comes out to support vertical skyscraper construction.
Photograph of the crooked crane in action thanks to Construction Index.

The Construction Index quoted City Lifting expert, Trevor Jepson, when he said this design was a first, ‘Usually the crane hangs on a ‘shelf bracket’ half way up the building but these are very heavy cranes.’

The project is designed by PLP Architecture and when finished it should look like this.

skyscraper impression of the final project.
How 22 Bishopsgate should look. Click the photograph for access to the PLP website.

I doubt it is first time this has been tried, though it is probably the first time it has not been operated by someone with their fingers crossed.


Chris Hodge

For more detail Click Here for the Construction Index article.