Belfast Telegraph

HSENI caught in legal dispute over site work

By Lindsay Fergs

Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) is facing a £500,000 demand for loss of earnings from the contractor who cleared the Omagh bomb scene, the Belfast Telegraph can today reveal.

An invoice for £444,000 has been sent to HSENI by Bridge Line Demolition, which has been banned from working at a site in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim for seven months by the non-departmental public body.

The respected director of the Limavady-based company, Joseph Strawbridge, claims he has been forced to lay-off all his staff following the long-running dispute.

HSENI slapped a prohibition notice — currently under appeal — on the firm last July following allegations that asbestos was found at a part of the former Courtaulds site where Bridge Line Demolition was working as a sub-contractor.

The letter dated February 17 was sent to Jim Keyes, chief executive of HSENI, which is funded by the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Making reference to the prohibition notice, effective July 23 last year, the communication states: “As a result of the inappropriate and unreasonable interpretation and use of Health & Safety legislation, coupled with unwarranted delays, prevarication and exactitude of your personnel and their agents, our company has sustained, inter-alia, severe economic loss.

“This loss is ongoing and our company’s contention is that your agency is directly culpable for such economic loss.”

It continues: “During the period July 23, 2009 to January 31, 2010 a direct loss of profit in excess of £444,000 has been sustained by our company, and ongoing monthly losses are in excess of £50,000.

“We request that you address this issue directly and furnish us with a remittance of £444,000 for the economic loss to January 31, 2010 aforementioned.”

The letter is signed by Mr Strawbridge, who has worked in the building industry for 40 years. He is highly regarded in the field of demolition and asbestos.

A spokeswoman for the HSENI said a prohibition notice was served on Bridge Line Demolition, and that the company had lodged an appeal with the Office of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal.

She added: “As the matter is ‘sub-judice’ it is not appropriate for HSENI to comment at this time.”

Mr Strawbridge cleared the site of the Omagh bomb, which left 29 people dead and more than 200 injured in August 1998.

The Co Londonderry man, who won praise from the police for his deeds, also waived his fee for the work.

Confirming the letter that was sent to HSENI, Mr Strawbridge said: ‘I feel that HSENI has acted in a hasty and unnecessarily officious manner and has not really understood the implications of its actions.”

The economic downturn has hit the construction industry particularly hard with little sign of the tide turning.

Building work in both the private and public sector has ground to a halt, with the property market bearing the brunt of the slump.

According to the Construction Employers’ Federation 30,000 people from the industry have lost their job in the challenging financial climate.

Mr Strawbridge claims that as a result of the stand-off with HSENI he has reluctantly had to lay off six employees.

He explained: “In an economic downturn such as we in Northern Ireland are experiencing, why do we have to put more people on the dole queue?

“Taxpayer funded government departments such as HSENI are supposed to |be there to help, not to put us out of |business.”

The Belfast Telegraph spoke to a number of Bridge Line workers who confirmed they are claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance and have been unable to secure alternative employment.

According to HSENI’s website, its |vision is: “To achieve world-class performance in workplace health and safety |and therefore improve the overall |economic and social well being of our |community.”

Belfast Telegraph