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HSE design crackdown under way

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An architect has been found guilty after a court case, which illustrates that safety chiefs are implementing threats aimed at forcing designers to help stamp out building-site danger.

Gloucester-based architect Neil Vesma was fined £500 last week and ordered to attend training to improve his awareness of health and safety issues in design.

Vesma, of Neil Vesma Architects, produced a design that included blocks weighing over 50 per cent more than maximum levels laid down by regulations.

Lawyers for the prosection told the court that Vesma had specifed blocks weighing more than 36kg when drawing up designs for a facade he was working on. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance - in the form of the Construction and Design Management Regulations - sets a maximum weight of 20kg.

The HSE spokeswoman said that tradesmen working on the site had complained of strain after working with the blocks.

'Apparently bricklayers on the site suffered back pain and were concerned enough to stop their younger colleagues working with them, ' she added. 'The use of these heavy blocks is unusual because they can be designed out in favour of lighter materials.'

The offence was discovered on a routine site check by the HSE and Vesma's case was heard at Coleford Magistrates' Court near the Forest of Dean on 25 May. Neil Vesma could not be contacted.

The case follows increasingly menacing arm-flexing by the HSE and National Audit Office, which are focusing on designers.

Inspectors have warned that the only way to force architects and other construction designers to take their responsibilities seriously would be to prosecute them.

And a report by the National Audit Office recently upped the pressure again by attacking the health and safety record of architects and other designers (AJ 13.5.04).

Improving health and safety in the construction industry claimed most 'designers show little or no interest in understanding the health and safety implications of their work'. Up to 60 per cent of accidents could be traced to decisions taken before building work began, including during the design process, it said.

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