Article Safety

Hard Shoulder, Near Miss. Stay Safe!

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Please click the below link to see a video clip of a near miss on the hard shoulder.

If you have any safety alerts you think AGS members would benefit from please forward them to the AGS Secretariat at Please note Safety Alerts provided to the AGS will be shared among all members and made available on the website for visitors.

Article Loss Prevention Safety

Loss Prevention CDM 2015

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Image Credit: Ace Work Gear,

There appears a general consensus that working for a commercial competent supply chain and client, CDM2015 is reasonably straightforward to comply with. Although the changes are significant, good contractors perform similar duties that have kept them safe in the past.

A competent client will appoint a Principal Designer (PD) and Principal Contractor (PC) in sufficient time for the ground investigation to be undertaken by a contractor using sufficient resources in accordance with the regulations. Everyone knows where they stand.

In other situations, a commercial client may not fulfil their duties for making the appointments; or for providing all the information needed to safely operate the site.

In such circumstances, the contractor may elect to undertake the duties that are missing to get the work done; adopting the PD/PC roles. In effect, treating a commercial client like a domestic client. (Hyperlink to HSE

Where a domestic client appoints only a contractor, the duties are automatically transferred if they do not exist elsewhere. Contractors may think life-of-project organisations like builders/architects/structural engineers are better suited to PD/PC duties, and this is probably true but may be out of the member’s control. Members could check whether any written agreements are in place before deciding whether to proceed. “

Contractors that do decide to take on a project in this way should recognise their additional duties (and competencies or otherwise), which can be discovered by looking at the regulations and the guidance. Some highlighted issues are presented below.

The contractor must ensure they have made the client aware of their own duties (either as commercial or domestic client), but also that they are taking on the additional roles (PD/PC) which may require extra resources. This should be done as part of the tendering process/offer of service, AND include details of when these roles will cease plus other limitations.

The contractor still needs to make wider arrangements to manage the site for the duration of the works by performing inductions, ensuring the site is secure, ensure suitable welfare arrangements are in place and generally comply fully with their part 4 duties under the regulations. They should also prepare a Construction Phase Plan (CPP) which will deal with how they intend to arrange the work and how they will manage foreseeable hazards both at and adjacent to the site.

The CPP should also identify any additional information that the contractor needs before starting work.  If the client is not able to provide that information (e.g. services location, intrusive asbestos survey, ordnance assessment, etc.) then the contractor should arrange with the client for the work to be carried out.

Where the contractor carries out design work (e.g. temporary works including perimeter fencing, arranging traffic management, ground conditions assessment and alterations, excavation support, etc.) they should ensure they follow the principle of avoid the hazard or use a suitable control measure to minimise risk.

Without clear arrangements to the contrary, there is danger an early stage contractor could be assumed to be responsible for following phases of works. It is therefore important that where a contractor only is appointed, they clearly limit their role.

The following examples show where a contractor (PD/PC) might find unexpected resources required to comply with the regulations.

  1. Obtaining service drawings & checking for unexploded ordnance
  2. Managing extra contractors
  3. Dealing with unexpected visitors
  4. Maintenance of security or welfare where damage occurs
  5. Changing investigation method due new information, unforeseen site conditions, or consequential events

It is probably the role of PD that introduces most uncertainty to the contractor because the role is generally unfamiliar to site staff. For instance, would using a borehole instead of a trial pit represent a clear-cut reduction in risk against striking a service, and is this a designer’s decision under CDM 2015?


If you found this article helpful, you may find the AGS Client Guide on CDM2015 useful, to download for free please click here.


Article Safety

Applying 2015 CDM Regulations to Ground Investigation

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Construction Design Management (CDM) updated their regulations earlier in the year to further improve health and safety across the construction industry and manage risk accordingly.

Is your Company up to speed with the new changes? Do you know how the new regulations affect ground investigation? Jo Strange, Technical Director of CGL and an active member of the AGS Loss Prevention Working Group, has written an insightful article in this month’s Ground Engineering magazine on Applying 2015 CDM regulations to ground investigation. To read the article in its entirety, please click here

What are your thoughts on the new CDM regulations? Share your opinion on the AGS LinkedIn Group

The AGS Safety Working will be issuing guidance on CDM shortly, watch this space!

Report Safety

Safety Group Report

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Julian Lovell, Chairman, AGS Safety Working Group writes:

Below is the latest report from our Safety Group which this quarter has been tackling issues on guidance, the new CDM regulations and collaboration with the British Drilling Association (BDA).

AGS Safety Guidance

The working group has been working consistently to progress the guidance available to the industry. Progress has been steady throughout the year. Most guidance goes through two if not three reviews which effectively means 3 to 6 months from initial draft and the most effective reviews are carried out by the committee either in a face to face meeting or on one occasion an on-line meeting.

Guidance which has been published since the last meeting:

  • Use of Scaffolding/Temporary Working Platform
  • Lifting Operations and Equipment used in Drilling Operations Guidance on CSCS Registration
  • Driving at Work

Guidance close to completion:

  • PPE
  • Manual Handling
  • Training and Competence
  • AGS Health and Safety Training Standards Health Surveillance


Currently all published guidance is freely available from the AGS website. The SWG has discussed this matter and believes that all of the safety guidance should be freely available in front of the member’s portal.

Where individual guidance links together we would like hyperlinks so that you can move between them. This should be part of the new website functionality specification. The web pages should have photographs and images and not just a list of links to guidance. The guidance will also be split into sections to try to make it easier to find what you want. Currently, we are waiting for the development of standard templates before we can provide further input to the new section within the new website.


The BDA has completed a new version of its Safety Manual and this is likely to be available digitally in the next month or so. Currently, they are deciding how and who it is distributed to but it is likely to be free to members. Unsure if it will be sold on the wider market.

There have also been ongoing discussions between the BDA and AGS regarding a closer working relationship. The AGS SWG has discussed on numerous occasions how much of an overlap there is and has offered to set up a joint working group. The BDA have reported back that they initially want to establish their own safety committee which has not met for over 12 months. They will then re-visit the idea of working with the AGS.

BDA have agreed to sponsor a session at Geotechnica which will be a Health and Safety session.

The BDA also spoke to the SWG about the BDA Audit. This scheme has been brought in to allow companies to assess the ongoing competence of the drill crews and to comply with BS 22475: Part 2. The auditee has to have already achieved the Land Drilling NVQ but this will look more closely in to how the driller is operating on site and complying with legislation, guidance and good practice. The BDA Training and Education Committee is currently working with Equipe to strengthen the Audit so that it requires the auditee to be able to prove a high standard of knowledge and application of both quality and safety. It is hoped that this will be linked in to the work to improve the current Land Drilling NVQs and in time to develop a Level 3 Advanced Lead Driller qualification.

Safety awareness and CSCS

The CSCS have been advised by the construction industry that there are too many loopholes in the CSCS card scheme. The CSCS card should represent the work activity being performed on site by that individual. The current clamp down has seen the requirement to attend a one day approved Health, Safety and Environmental awareness course if a GREEN labourer’s card is required. This is in addition to the CSCS touch screen test. Whilst this sounds initially like a good initiative to reduce the number of generic cards and promote training there are concerns. The concerns are that

  • it may lead to similar generic cards such as the WHITE Construction Related Operatives (CRO) card requiring something similar or being withdrawn
  • the promotion of generic Health and Safety training.
    The CRO card is commonly used across the geotechnical industry under the title Ground Specialist.New Standards BS EN 16228 – Drilling and foundation equipment.The new standard is seen to be the European wide requirements for rig guarding but they are actually a lot more detailed and cover all safety aspects of operating drilling equipment across sectors and rig types. Most organisations have still not looked to see if changes to UK practice or obligations on rig users or manufacturers has changed. AGS has told BDA that as the trade body for drilling they should be advising industry on these matters. One AGS member believes that it downgrades the importance of guarding in reference to trapping distances. There will undoubtedly be other areas which need to be considered. The BS was live from the end of October 2014.

    Construction Design and Management Regulations, 2015

    The changes to the CDM regulations was discussed, majority of the group felt more responsibility had been passed onto the client and they would now have to consider risk as well as the cost of the project. Julian Lovell noted the HSE encourages industry interpretation, and thought it was important guidance was produced to reflect the industry. The group agreed and recognised the re-education of clients would be the hardest transition. It was agreed joint industry guidance with the BDA and the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) would be ideal. Julian, Madeleine Bardsley, Adam Latimer and Jon Rayner agreed to contribute to the joint industry guidance on behalf of the AGS. Ann-Marie Casserly raised the proposal at the FPS Safety & Training meeting and Julian contacted BDA. Currently all parties agree that it would be a good initiative but neither FPS nor BDA could provide time or resources at the moment.

    Equipe are currently arranging a FREE one day seminar/discussion forum for Health and Safety in the geotechnical industry on 4th March at their training rooms near Banbury. The day is aimed to open up debate on HS&E matters including:

  • How the industry should adopt and interpret the requirements of CDM 2015
    • Can we educate the client?
    • Can CDMCs become Principal Designers?
    • Can the industry cope with the increased demand to act as Principal Contractor?
  • Will it increase resources and costs to complete CDM jobs?
  • Why companies might consider Health Surveillance

Safety Alerts

The Safety Working Group would like to receive copies of safety alerts relevant to member’s activities so that lessons can be learnt. The most valuable messages often come from Near Misses and it is hoped that we can start a regular item in the newsletter but we have to have items sent from the membership.

Article Safety

First Aid in the Workplace – Changes to Regulations

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), carried out an evaluation of first aid in the workplace and found that ‘although first aid awareness and penetration in workplaces was good, compliance was found to be more “in spirit” rather than the letter of the regulations and this exposed some important deficiencies in the format and content of guidance and in the proportionality of the current regulatory requirements for lower risk employees’.
The changes have been developed in consultation with employers and training providers and it is hoped that the new format will make it easier for employers to comply with the regulations.

The initial four day First Aid at Work (FAW) course will be shortened to three days and there will be a new qualification of Emergency First Aider in the Workplace (EFAW) that will require a one day training course. The FAW requalification remains unchanged at two days.
The HSE will also strongly recommend that FAW and EFAW students attend an annual three hour refresher course to prevent ‘skills fade’.
Both the FAW and EFAW courses will be approved by the HSE and must be taught by HSE approved first aid training providers.
FAW certificates will remain valid until their expiry date even if this is after October 1 2009.

For more information, visit

Uncategorized Safety

Putting Safety First

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The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007


This new Act came into force on 6th April 2008.  An offence is committed if the manner in which an organisation manages or organises its activities causes a person’s death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.  This is a corporate crime and not an individual crime.  There is now no need to identify a person controlling or directing the mind of an organisation, who is also guilty of the offence of gross negligence manslaughter, before the corporation can be convicted of the same offence.  The only sentencing option available to the court on a corporate manslaughter conviction will be a fine.  However, it is envisaged that considerable stigma will attached to a conviction. In addition senior management might feel compelled to resign and if they do not resign there are likely to be grounds for dismissal of some or all of the senior managers responsible for the gross breach of duty.

Details of the ‘new’ offence

The way in which the organisation is managed by its senior management has to be a substantial element in the breach of the duty of care.  It is a matter for the judge to establish whether a duty of care is owed.

Factors to be taken into account by the jury are whether there has been a breach of any relevant health and safety legislation, the seriousness of the breach and how much of a risk of death was posed by it. The jury may consider whether the culture, policy, systems and procedures in the organisation encouraged failure to comply with health and safety regulatory legislation or guidance.

Senior management means either those who play a significant role in making decisions about how the whole or a substantial part of the organisation’s activities are to be managed or organised, or those who play a significant role in the actual managing or organising of the whole or a substantial part of those activities.

Under Section 9 of the Act it is open to any court convicting of corporate manslaughter to make an order, called a remedial order, requiring the organisation to take specified steps to remedy the breach, to remedy any matters which contributed to the cause of death, and to remedy any deficiency in the organisation’s policy, systems or practices relating to health and safety.

Under Section 10 of this Act the court has a power to order an organisation to publish the fact that it has been convicted of the offence, to specify the particulars of the offence, the amount of any fine imposed and the terms of any remedial order made.


The Act is clearly a reaction to a long held belief that those who put profit before safety at the expense of lives should suffer a sanction more significant than can be imposed by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The clear target at the time of the consultation and publication of the bill was large organisations whose activities cost life where there should have been no such risk.

The offence will now be committed if the breach that is a substantial cause of the death can be placed at the door of senior management who make the decisions about how an organisation is run from a strategic level, or is made by those at a senior operational level.  The Act is not designed to produce a prosecution in circumstances where appropriate strategic management exists, and appropriate operational management exists, but a significant failure is made at a junior operational level.

A more detailed version of the above article will be incorporated into the AGS Loss Prevention Working Group Tool Kit, but until then, if more details are required, please contact Berrymans Lace Mawer on the AGS Legal Helpline.

Article Safety

The Dangers of Trial Pitting

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Tags: danger safety

Alex Wright

This is Alex Wright.
Alex was a 27 year old experienced geotechnical engineer.
He lost his life on Friday 5th September 2008 when the side of a trial pit collapsed on him.  It took over 24 hours for the rescue team to recover his body.
Alex was simply doing his job.

The legal position ……..

  •  Probability of criminal proceedings against the company
  •  Probability of criminal proceedings against the “manager”

Health & Safety At Work Act 1974 – Section 37 – Offences by the body corporate.
“Where an offence is shown to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been attributed to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager……. he, as well as the body corporate, shall be guilty of that offence.”   The penalty may well be a prison sentence

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

The Act applies to the corporate body and not to individuals of the company. The penalty could be a fine of 5 per cent of average annual turnover during the 3 years prior to sentencing.


This photograph used to appear on the website of Alex’s Employer.



This trial pit is 5.5m deep.  What danger do you see in the picture?

How confident are you that your engineers:-

    • see the danger?
    • will not venture close to the edge (or into the pit)?
    • are conversant with your company’s safe working procedures?
Article Safety

Do your engineers know their quick hitches from their Direct Attachment Couplings?

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A quick-hitch is a latch device designed to facilitate the efficient connection and removal of attachments (such as buckets, grapples and rock breakers) to plant and equipment. It is often affixed to the end of the dipper arm of an excavator, as a means of enabling different types and sizes of excavator bucket (for example) to be changed at will.

According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures, 13% of all accidents investigated on excavators are attributed to the bucket detaching from a quick hitch and injuring a ground worker. These are mostly fatal or major injuries but it is likely there are many more dangerous bucket detachments which go unreported because no injury occurs. The HSE believe quick hitch failures are relatively common, although injuries are less so.

As a result of these facts and a number of recent fatalities, this is now a major topic for HSE enforcement on construction sites, reflecting the serious nature of their concerns. To ensure safety on site it is important those hiring excavators understand their obligations towards safety and have in place the systems and procedures required.

Quick hitches are not normally made by the excavator manufacturer although some are badged and sold by them for use with their equipment. Research conducted by the HSE some time ago identified 20 different manufacturers, most of whom had several different designs of QH with either manual, semi automatic or automatic functions. Due to this vast array of equipment and the variations in type and designs, any procedures in place must cater for all eventualities and this brings its own problems. It is unreasonable for the engineer in charge of the site to become an expert on all quick hitches yet they as the senior person on site are deemed responsible for safety.

Recent enforcement guidance from the HSE to their inspectors outlines the standard expected for safety on site, which should be referred to for full guidance. It is important any organisation using excavators as part of their work reviews their procedures and ensures systems are in place to manage the risk to which staffs are exposed. Risk assessments and safe systems of work must be in place and if you employ more than five people these have to be written.

So what should you consider when setting up procedures to manage staff safety and satisfy the HSE should they visit?

As outlined in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the first objective must be to eliminate risk where reasonably practicable. In such circumstances this would involve the replacement of quick hitches with ‘Direct Attachment Connections’ but this may not be reasonably practicable as an excavator operator may change the bucket on his excavator up to 30 times a day to maximise the machine productivity. Despite this inconvenience, this is the approach being taken by at least one major plant hire company due to their concerns about the viability of managing quick hitch safety on site.

If the hazard cannot be eliminated it should be substituted with something less hazardous. All quick hitches carry a risk of detachment so achieving this is difficult although in some cases a fully automatic hitch could prove easier to manage than a manual or semi automatic version. Where manual intervention is required there is a risk of retaining pins being missed, put in to wrong holes or just being left off for expediency but automatic hitches must be properly maintained and used in accordance with manufacturers instructions for safe operation.

Realistically, most ground investigation companies do not control their own excavator fleet and are governed by the equipment they can get hold of local to the site and at short notice, so demanding direct connections or fully automatic hitches may not be a realistic option. In such cases the obligation will be on the ground investigation company to ensure they have suitable safe systems of work in place to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of staff on site no matter what equipment turns up on site.

Placing the emphasis on the receiving engineer on site may cause delays and encourage uncontrolled risks to be taken in an effort to get the job done. A better approach would be to consider safety at the moment of hire where the following items can be checked and discussed with the provider.

If you are hiring an excavator with driver for use on site, you must ensure the contractor has adequate public liability insurance. Your public liability insurers may stipulate a required level of cover which will typically be in the range of £1m to £2m.

If you are hiring plant and driver from a larger plant hire company, they should be able to provide you with a written risk assessment covering the risk to site staff. This must cover the risk from bucket detachment as a result of quick hitch failures and operators must be in possession of a CPCS or CSCS card. These do ensure competence with a quick hitch so should be supplemented with evidence of training in the particular type of hitch in use.

Realistically, many of the excavators you hire will be provided by small companies. Where the number of employees is less than five the assessment does not, by law, need to be recorded so in such cases you should ensure you have a risk assessment which covers such eventualities and drivers and hirers should then work to these. The risk assessments must consider the competency of excavator drivers and their understanding of quick hitches and how this should be demonstrated on site.

Any safe system of work and risk assessment, either from the plant hirer or your own, must include an outline of how staff are instructed and trained to remain clear of the excavator bucket while in use and where to stand. This is the primary method of risk management and makes sure that if the bucket becomes detached, there is no risk of injury.

Clear evidence of equipment maintenance in line with manufacturer guidance must be seen. In addition to the regular service and daily maintenance checks required for excavators, quick hitches should have a thorough examination and inspection at six monthly intervals as they are classified as lifting accessories under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER).

None of these requirements should pose any problem to responsible equipment hirers and an inability or reluctance to provide such information should ring alarm bells. When you don’t check what you are hiring or have not clarified the competency of the sub contract staff, you are bringing uncontrolled risks into your organisation. In a dynamic environment these will combine with other causal factors such as commercial requirements and client deadlines, leading to a high likelihood of accidents.

The HSE have provided their inspectors with guidance on appropriate penalties for companies in breach of statutory duties. Where ground workers are required to work under buckets fitted with a quick hitch, a prohibition notice will be issued where all work must stop until the matter is rectified and this could lead to possible prosecution. Where there is no risk assessment referring to the risk of bucket detachment, an improvement notice would be considered which will require the organisation to implement systems and procedures within a fixed time period. Where site managers are not aware of the safety requirements of the quick hitches in use, an improvement notice will be applied and where the operator is unaware, a prohibition notice will be given.

Any prosecution, prohibition notice or improvement notice applied by the HSE will generally need to be stated when clients ask you to demonstrate your health and safety record. As a key requirement of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007(CDM), where competency and your ability to demonstrate you can do the work safely is key, any such blemish could be the difference between being awarded a contract or not.

HSE document (SIM 02/2007/01 Version 2)

The HSE Safety Alert can be found at –

Article Safety

AGS manual handling

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More than a quarter of accidents that have occurred at work and have been reported to the enforcing authorities each year, are associated with manual handling.  During the period from 1990 to 1995, an average of 1,181 people annually suffered major injury, and 51,103 suffered injury resulting in more than three days off work.  This makes manual handling the largest single cause of injury at work.  It is not just the lifting of heavy loads that causes injury – often relatively lightweight objects picked up and carried awkwardly can result in major injury.

Virtually all aspects of our industry involve the manual handling of tools, samples, equipment, etc., of varying weights and dimensions.  Handling can be significantly compromised by difficult site conditions, such as slippery, wet, sticky, or muddy ground surfaces and perhaps variations in ground levels.


Most drilling equipment associated with CP boreholes, for example: heavy drilling/sampling tools, sinker bars, standard penetration- test trip hammers/rods, casing, and certain drilling consumables, pose a significant manual handling risk to site operatives.

Manual handling of, for example, the standard penetration test (SPT) trip hammer, at 110kg, remains a significant risk – and it is neither feasible nor practical to dismantle the hammer into manageable components.

In these and other circumstances it is a requirement of legislation to eliminate or reduce the risk to an acceptable level by introducing control measures to achieve safe working practices.

For carrying out a manual-handling risk assessment at any site, apply the acronym: ‘TILE’, which is derived from Task, Individual, Load and Environment, and described as follows:


Consider distance of the load from the body, the movement of the body to pick up the item (including twisting, stooping and reaching), and frequency of the lifting task.  Appropriate control measures may include the changing of working layout and the avoidance of lifting from ground level.  This might include, for example, the placement of SPT rods on bandstands; the storage of materials at waste height, and the use of a drilling winch where appropriate.


Safe manual handling is dependent on the strength and physical fitness of the person carrying out the task, and whether the person has had appropriate manual handling training. Only the most physically competent and appropriately trained personnel, and appropriate number of personnel, should carry out the lifting of such heavy objects.


Weight of load, centre of gravity of load, and size and shape of the load, should all be considered prior to load handling.  If the handling risk is unacceptable, it may be possible to break the load into smaller, manageable components (for example, using shorter casing and sinker bar lengths).  Smaller sample bags should be considered.


The working environment may significantly compromise manual handling tasks especially when they are performed outside on difficult terrain and in challenging weather conditions.  Effective controls in such conditions include creating a safe and well-managed working area that has no trip hazards.  The individual/s performing the task should be wearing appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

All manual handling tasks associated with site-investigation activities should be assessed using the TILE acronym above.

Other site tasks that involve the use (and lifting) of heavy equipment include: plate loading and California-bearing ratio (CBR) tests.  The same precautions and rules for lifting apply, i.e. breaking down the load into manageable components to achieve safe handling practices.  Where a reduction of load is not practical, a risk assessment should be carried out to assess the manual handling task and the necessary control measures required.

Manual handling of lesser loads, e.g. samples, can pose a significant risk if not managed correctly.  To avoid lifting excessive sample loads, the weight of bulk samples can be limited by the use of 15kg-bags, for example. Instructions can be given not to over fill bags.   Environmental sampling commonly requires double or even treble sampling, some of the samples of which are stored in glass containers. Glass adds significantly to the total weight of samples recovered.  Therefore, cool boxes used for storage and transportation of the glass containers should not be overfilled; the contents should be limited to a manageable load per box.

In summary, manual handling poses a significant risk to site operatives when carrying out site investigations, although the risks can be significantly reduced by the breaking down of equipment and the adoption of good management and safe working practices, including the training of personnel.  Where a load or task cannot be practicably reduced or broken down, a risk assessment must be carried out to ensure that there are no unacceptable risks to the individuals performing a lifting task.



The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, as amended in 2002(1),


John R Pulsford – Associate Director
RSK Geoconsult Ltd

Article Business Practice Loss Prevention Safety

Defence cost in criminal prosecutions

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It is probably common knowledge that fines arising from Criminal Prosecutions for Health and Safety breaches are not covered by a designer’s Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy.

Fines therefore have to be paid out of the company’s assets.

Defending a Health and Safety prosecution can be difficult as the burden of proof is with the defendant to show that he has complied with the relevant legislation- it’s not for the prosecuting authority to establish in what way the legislation has been breached.

Consequently defending criminal prosecutions can be very expensive and may in fact exceed the possible fine that may arise.

This often results in the designer pleading guilty on the basis of getting a reduced fine even though he feels there was no breach.

Although the fine cannot be met by a Professional Indemnity Policy, the defence cost can be.

Many consultants are now considering that a significant feature of a particular PI policy is the ability to recover these defence costs.

Note that not all PI policies offer this cover and the decision to defend a prosecution will rest with the insurer who will look at the merits and likely success of a defence.


Ewan MacGregor
Griffiths and Armour

Article Safety

Underground Services and Utility Plans

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Figures provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) record around 30 fatalities a year through contact with electricity. Most of these fatalities arise from contact with overhead or underground power cables and even when non-fatal, they can cause severe and permanent injury. Within the ground investigation industry, the potential for striking underground services is far greater than from coming into contact with overhead services and it is possibly the greatest risk we face.

The ability to react quickly to the requests of clients is seen by many companies as their competitive advantage, but this has to be balanced against the legal requirement to reduce risk. Any measures taken should be in accordance with the general principles of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 further clarified in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) 2007 :

  • clients shall ‘provide appropriate pre-construction information to designers and contractors’
  • all parties shall allow sufficient time to obtain vital pre-construction safety information

To help companies discharge these duties the HSE provides clear guidance on how to reduce the level of risk from underground services in their publication ‘HSG47 – Avoiding Danger from Underground Services’ . Within HSG47 the HSE outlines the requirement for any company involved with work where there is a risk of contacting underground services, to have in place and use a safe system of work consisting of four elements:

  • Planning the work and risk assessment
  • Maps and plans to identify the presence and location of underground services
  • Cable and pipe locating devices
  • Safe digging practices

Planning the work, assessing risk, using cable avoidance tools and safe digging are in every safe system of work but the use of utility plans is often absent. So why do many people take a short cut that could result in injury or fatality?

Initially it is the inability to obtain utility plans within the timescales demanded by clients and the commercial pressure to deliver reports and studies on time. Although utility plans are generally available within five working days they can take longer and this may not fit the expectations of the client, particularly where the decision to purchase land depends on the outcome of a report by a fixed deadline. But in the context of CDM2007, the provision of utility plans and any resulting delay in mobilisation is seen as strong evidence that all reasonable care has been taken to protect staff and members of the public.

CDM has always defined construction as:

‘Any civil engineering ….the preparation for an intended structure, including site clearance, exploration, investigation (but not site survey).’

Historically, the geotechnical and environmental sector has often viewed its work as exempt from the requirements of CDM as work only fell within the scope of the regulations when the work was ‘in preparation for a structure’. With the revision in April 2007 this requirement has been clarified and it is now clear CDM applies to work undertaken in ‘preparation of sites for use’, whether notifiable or not. It should be noted that irrespective of CDM there is an existing duty of care and HSG47 still applies.

The intention of a safe system of work is not necessarily to eliminate risk entirely but to reduce it to a level “as low as is reasonably practicable”. This is recognised by the HSE. However, for a safe system of work to be effective it must incorporate all four of the elements outlined in HSG47 and referred to earlier. The role of utility plans should be viewed in this context. Each element in the safe system of work has limitations, but they complement each other and when used together address the fundamental weaknesses of each.

The planning of the work and the development of risk assessments is the initial stage of the safe system of work. Understanding the site, its history and the nature and location of any likely services, will initially determine costs of works and the cable detection technology required. This can only be done with reference to utility plans.

Utility plans have limitations and this is often used as a justification for not including them in safe systems of work. Utility providers acknowledge their services rarely run in straight lines, surface depths may have changed, datums such as kerblines may have been moved and plans may only run to site boundaries. They all carry disclaimers to this extent.

Clients and contractors alike do not routinely expect utility plans to show the path of services on domestic, industrial or derelict sites and rarely request them as a result. This is particularly common for areas under development despite the fact that live services may still be present and utility plans may show where they cross sites or mysteriously terminate at the boundary. Without attempting to obtain utility plans in these cases the contractor or client will not be discharging their duty of care in possibly the highest risk environment of all.

Maps and plans are supplemental to the use of appropriate cable and pipe locating technologies which all come with inherent weaknesses. In most instances the appropriate cable locating technology will be a basic Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT) to verify the accuracy of utility plans or detect the presence of services not indicated. However CATs will not detect plastic or earthenware pipes, cables with no load and in some cases three phase cables where the load is well balanced. At the other end of the scale there is Ground Probing Radar which is expensive and may not detect all ground anomalies such as small diameter low voltage supply cables. To determine the suitable technology, reference must be made to utility plans and the site engineer must have an understanding of the applicable equipment.

Safe digging can only take place if you know what to expect. As examples, the use of mechanical equipment is prohibited within certain distances of gas mains with the distance depending on the mains pressure. Additionally safe digging traditionally relied on noticing a change in geology to indicate utility presence but this may no longer be applicable with the increasing use of directional drilling for service installation. In both of these examples the risk can only be truly managed with reference to utility plans.

As a final point of note, it must be understood that the safe system of work will only be effective if staff on site are trained in all 4 aspects and supported in the decisions they make. The safe system of work should carry the sponsorship of a senior figure, as a clear demonstration of commitment to staff safety, and be accompanied by a documented procedure that can be followed and used as reference.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Approved Code of Practice and guidance – L21 is available from HSE books priced £8.00

CDM2007 Approved Code of Practice known commonly as L144 is available from HSE books priced £15.00

HSG(47) ‘Avoiding Danger from Underground Services’ is available from HSE books ( priced £7.50

Tom Phillips
Applied Geology

Article Safety

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (“CDM”) – Questions and Answers

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Why was it necessary to revise the CDM Regulations 1994?

The new Regulations came into force in April 2007.  The purpose of the updated Regulations is to focus on the virtues of effective planning and management of construction projects from inception, i.e. the design concept.  The Regulations seek to engender a greater emphasis upon  health and safety considerations in order to reduce the risk of harm to those who build, use and maintain structures, and to address the generally accepted trend that the construction industry remains disproportionately hazardous to those working within it.

The aim is to enable members of the construction industry to work together to adopt a more health & safety conscious management programme, by:

  • Simplifying regulation;
  • Improving planning and management from the design stage onward;
  • Early identification of risks;
  • Encourage cooperation and working together;
  • Reduce bureaucracy and raise standards.

What are the CDM Regulations 2007

The new Regulations are divided into 5 parts:

Part 1 – Application and definition of the Regulations;
Part 2 – General duties that apply to all construction projects;
Part 3 – Additional duties that apply to notifiable projects;
Part 4 – Practical requirements for all construction sites;
Part 5 – Transitional arrangements and revocations.


What type of project is notifiable?

A notifiable project is one that will last longer than 30 days (including holidays and weekends) or which will involve more that 500 person days of construction work (calculated on a normal working shift).  Domestic projects for those who live, or will live, in the premises and are not related through trade, business or undertaking the project, are not notifiable.  It is the responsibility of the new CDM Co-ordinator to notify the project.

What is the role of the CDM Co-ordinator and the Principal Contractor?

On all notifiable projects a CDM Co-ordinator and a Principal Contractor must be appointed.  The co-ordinator is responsible for advising the Client and notifying the HSE together with managing the communication of the construction team and creating the health & safety file.  The Principal Contractor is responsible for planning, managing and monitoring the progress of the works.  In addition, they should ensure that the Client is aware of their duties and that the Co-ordinator is appointed and information is provided for the health & safety file.


By what criteria is competency measured under the new Regulations?

There are 3 stages to competency:

  • Basic understanding of risk and how they are managed;
  • Sufficient understanding of the tasks to be used and the risks they involve;
  • The necessary experience and ability to carry out those duties.

The basic premise is, competent people are safer people.  It is important that individuals and organisations recognise their own limitations in this regard.  The Approved Code of Practice provides valuable guidance when addressing the question of competency.


What if the project has already begun?

The 2007 Regulations will apply.  There are provisions dealing with the transition period between the old and new Regulations but, importantly, the competency element must be acquired within 12 months.


Who are the new dutyholders?

Specific duties are imposed upon Clients, the CDM Co-ordinator, Designers, Contractors and Principal Contractors.


They cannot now transfer their liabilities and duties to third parties, however, an agent acting on an existing project, under the CDM 1994, can continue in that role until the end of the project or April 2012, whichever is the earlier.

The Client must also ensure that the project is suitably managed and all relevant  required information is provided.


The Designer must principally comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 and must not begin work until the Client is aware of its duties.  Further, all reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that the other members of the construction team, including the Client, have been provided with sufficient information about the design.

With regard to notifiable projects, a Designer should not start work until a CDM Co-ordinator has been appointed and  they have sufficient information about the design to enable them to comply with their duties.


The Contractor should not start work until the Client is aware of its duties and the Contractor has ensured that any contractors or sub-contractors that it intends to use are informed of the minimum amount of time they will be allowed to plan and prepare.  Every worker should have sufficient information and training for their particular work.

Principal Contractors:

Their duties fall into 3 categories:

  1. Main duties;
  2. Duties related to the construction phase plan; and
  3. Co-operation and consultation.

Overall, Principal Contractors must plan, manage and monitor the construction phase of the project to encourage co-operation and co-ordination between the relevant construction team members.  In addition, they must draw up the construction phase plan, ensure that every worker has a sufficient site induction, is provided with information and training and consult with the representatives of the workforce on matters of health, safety and welfare.

What is a health and safety file?

The CDM Co-ordinator is responsible for creating and revising this document for notifiable projects.  They must liaise with all of the relevant members of the construction team to ensure that the file contains information for the future construction, maintenance, refurbishment or demolition of the structure, in order that the future work is carried out safely.

Are there any strategies I can adopt for a ‘best practice’ approach?

It is important that you integrate health, safety and risk management into the corporate culture by considering the level of “risk”, reducing or eliminating the “risk” wherever possible and keep the “risk” under review.  A paper trail of this process will be invaluable when you audit your compliance with the Regulations or you are asked to illustrate your adoption of the “best practice” approach.

Where do I go for help?

The Approved Code of Practice accompanies the new 2007 Regulations and assists with practical guidance on interpreting and applying the Regulations as well as suggesting ways of improving cooperation and coordination.

Berrymans Lace Mawer