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HSE in 'picking on profession' row

The case of Neil Vesma, an architect convicted earlier this month of breaching health and safety regulations, has sparked a series of angry responses from his supporters, who claim he has been seriously mistreated.

The RIBA was among those prompted into action after Vesma, of Gloucester-based Neil Vesma Architects, was fined £500 with £1,000 costs and ordered to take part in a planning supervisor course (AJ 3.6.04).

RIBA's Wessex region director Jane Pinnock said the prosecution and conviction were an example of the HSE's picking on the architecture profession. 'The HSE seems to be out for architects, ' she said.

Vesma admitted failing to warn bricklayers about the weight of blocks being used in one of his designs. However, he said he felt 'singled out' because he had not specified the blocks, which had been chosen by the contractor.

'I held my hand up to it but it seems unfair. Why was no action taken against the quantity surveyor and contractor?'

And John Heath, managing partner of safety specialist Morgan Safety Services, said Vesma's 'professional and honest approach in pleading guilty'made him an easy target.

It was 'beyond comprehension' the contractor could admit to choosing the blocks, allow his workmen to lift them and not find himself in court, he said.

'This prosecution appears to suggest designs must be specified to the absolute, with no leeway for the tendering contractor to offer alternatives in material or method.

'This is a very bad road to follow or be forced down. It suggests only the architect can be held responsible for design decisions, ' Heath added.

RIBA health and safety spokesman Tim Gough agreed that the court's findings were reason for concern, warning that they could trigger a new raft of guidance.

'It is worrying when a member is prosecuted this way and we want to issue advice, ' said Gough.

'Because it's a criminal prosecution it's unwise to comment until we have all the facts from the magistrates.'

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