During morning rush hour on 26 May 2016, an accident occurred during the renovation of the former building of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) at Rijnstraat 8, opposite The Hague Central Station. While hoisting scaffold parts, 20 lattice girders came loose. They fell down from a height of more than 60 metres and partly ended up outside the building site. A woman who was passing by was hit and died.
Building site safety in an urban environment is a difficult puzzle
In the Netherlands, a lot of building work is performed in city centres. These are large and extensive projects, such as the building of Zalmhaventoren in Rotterdam, the renovation of the station area in Utrecht and the renovation of the former VROM building in The Hague. City centres are busy and space is scarce. Major building projects may therefore be subject to increased safety risks. At small building sites enclosed by a busy urban area, the risks are higher that an accident will also have consequences outside the site fence. Guaranteeing environmental safety in these projects is therefore crucial. It may be a difficult puzzle, as safety measures may affect other interests, such as accessibility and habitability.
Rijnstraat accident reveals hidden field of tension and insufficient buffer
When the building work at Rijnstraat 8 commenced, the builder and the Municipality of The Hague thought they had solved this puzzle. However, the accident on 26 May 2016 reveals a hidden field of tension between the accessibility of the station area and the safety around the building site. Every day thousands of people passed the building site. Some of the scaffold parts that fell from the crane ended up outside the building site, right among the pedestrian and cycling traffic of the morning rush hour. The Board recognises that the Municipality of The Hague leads the way when it comes to matters such as specifying minimum distances between an active crane and the site fence, but also concludes that these rules provided an insufficient buffer to protect the surrounding area against the scaffold parts that fell from the crane. They fell up to twice as far away as taken into account by the rules.
Prior analysis of surrounding area by commissioning authority helps to prevent issues
The assumption made by the parties involved in coordinating matters regarding the building site was that it was safe outside the site fence, as the contours of the building site had been determined based on the municipality’s safety rules. However, environmental safety is not a static and absolute fact (safe or unsafe). Fitting a building site into the surroundings is precisely about the interaction and possible tension between the intended safety of the surroundings and other environmental factors and interests. The sooner they are revealed, the more they can be taken into account. The Board therefore sees an important role for commissioning authorities of building projects in the preparation of a building project. Before issuing a call for tenders, the commissioning authority could carry out an analysis of the surrounding area in close consultation with the municipality. During this process, all relevant environmental factors, such as the location of the building site, the intensity of various traffic streams and the arrangements made with the parties involved, would be mapped out. This kind of prior environmental analysis helps the commissioning authority to prepare a realistic and sound building assignment, giving a builder enough time, money and space to work safely. Afterwards, the builder should consider what is required and possible to guarantee safety of the surrounding area and which building method suits this.
Mapping out risks and preventing them through policy
The municipality approves a building project, setting requirements for the level of safety. This requires a clear picture of the hazards that may occur at the building site, the chances of them occurring, the possible effects and the factors that may affect this. One example of such a risk is objects falling from a crane. It is important here to know how far objects may fall and how this is affected, for example, by the mass and shape of the hoisting load, the hoisting height, crane movement, wind and objects in the fall path (such as scaffolds). The Board believes that the Minister of Housing and the Central Government Sector should be mapping out risks in this manner, in collaboration with the building industry.
Once the manifestation and effects of building risks have been investigated, municipalities can draw up or amend policy rules to prevent these risks. Prior to this process, the Minister of Housing and the Central Government Sector should determine the intended level of environmental safety. The implementation of the municipal policy should then ensure that this intended safety level is actually achieved.