A WHISTLEBLOWER has revealed how giant boulders of concrete had fallen and a number of people were injured in the months before a construction worker was crushed to death in a Crossrail tunnel.
A document marked “confidential” warns of the “hazardous and unsafe working conditions” for staff spraying concrete onto walls deep below ground level.
Rene Tkacik, 43, was fatally struck by a falling slab of concrete in Holborn on March 7. At the time of his death he was spraying concrete through a hose – known as “shotcrete” – in a process introduced by Crossrail contractors last year.
The whistleblower’s memo, given to the West End Extra, says “the warning signs were evident from the start” and lists a series of Crossrail “shotcrete” worker injuries in 2013. It also warns of:
• Tunnel workers being set to work under freshly applied shotcrete.
• Multiple shotcrete falls from a roof in a cross passage.
• An employee sustaining multiple broken ribs from exposure to unsafe shotcrete pipes.
The memo, dated April 9 this year, adds: “All of the above incidents and facts are known to the Health and Safety Executive and subject to further investigation.
“These unacceptable working practices have led not only to multiple injuries but unfortunately to one fatality. All construction workers and their families have a right to know this.”
The HSE confirmed on Wednesday it was aware of the claims.
The scene of the accident in Holborn
A joint statement from the Crossrail contractors said they thoroughly investigated each of the concerns.
Mr Tkacik, from east London, was killed while working on a new crossover tunnel at a site in Fisher Street, Holborn.
“The worker was spraying concrete onto the excavated ground when a piece of concrete from the ceiling of the tunnel fell and hit him,” a statement from Crossrail said. The whistleblower’s memo is attached to a “Mind Safety” report, commissioned by Crossrail contractors BBMV (Balfour Beatty, BeMo Tunnelling, Morgan Sindall and Vinci Construction) in 2013. The report claimed that Crossrail managers had been taking “secret photographs of safety incidents as they unfold” before emailing them to each other with “unmasked glee”. The “spy culture” was “hard to understand”, the report said, and “had damaged morale” among staff.
Trade union UCATT said the most worrying aspect of the contractors’ report was that staff were too “scared” to report accidents or dangerous safety practices for fear of getting the sack.
The Mind Safety report said: “Injured workers are afraid to report due to the likelihood of being laid off. They are asked to report everything but feel there is a ‘major backlash’ when they do.”
Campaigners have for two years warned that new health and safety regulations have prevented proper checks at large construction sites.
Legislation protecting workers has been “weakened” by the Coalition government, according to Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, who said: “Since the government took power there have been constant attacks on safety laws and regulations.”
A spokesman for BBMV said: “The [Mind Safety] report commissioned by BBMV 12 months ago does not reflect a poor safety culture at that time. The draft report only contained contributions from a limited number of people and was not sufficient to give a true and accurate reflection.”
A Crossrail spokesman said it “enjoyed a good working relationship with BBMV” and that its “safety record is better than the UK construction industry average”.
Law firm Leigh Day & Co is representing clients injured on construction sites and Helen Clifford, from the personal injury team, said: “We have come too far in the fight for the safety of workers, and too many people have died, to simply accept the sort of behaviour that appears to be detailed in this report, from those with a responsibility for the safety of workers.”
Crossrail said it was up to BBMV to respond to concerns about safety on the Finsbury Circus and Whitechapel sites, neighbouring the tunnelling work into Holborn, where the reported incidents took place.
A spokesman said: “BBMV is delivering the Crossrail works at Finsbury Circus and has lead responsibility for safety on the site. All safety concerns or suggestions for improvement are taken seriously. We thoroughly investigated each of the concerns in question at the time they were raised. The HSE has visited our Whitechapel and Finsbury Circus sites and is fully satisfied with our arrangements.”