Health and Safety Exposures on Whitby East Pier and Harbour

Whitby Harbour

Subsequent to the wealth of photo evidence of harbour neglect, a letter has been sent to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by a local resident. This presents damning evidence of further dereliction of responsibility by Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), North Yorkshire Council (NYC) and the HSE themselves. Enjoy

8th April 2024

I deeply regret the necessity to raise this issue yet again, given continued deterioration despite previous correspondence with the HSE and the local authority, dating from 2016 onwards. On 13th March 2024, I took a stroll on Whitby’s East Pier. I was both appalled and disappointed to note that there is still only one ladder on the outer seaward side of this pier. This means that one solitary ladder has been provided, to service a 300m stretch of pier, facing north-east, which is directly exposed to the full force of the North Sea.

You will recall how in your letter dated 3rd May 2022, you informed me that Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) had advised you that: ‘On the outer side of the pier there are three ladders in place currently, with a further two ladders on order to increase the existing controls.’ I had previously stated in my letter dated 10th February 2022, that there was in fact only one ladder. Consequently, when I took my stroll down the pier on 13th March 2024, I was expecting to find five ladders. Instead, I found only one (see attached photo 1).

With all due respect, the HSE has a fundamental problem because, to the best of my knowledge, they have never visited the East Pier. They are therefore reliant on information provided by the local authority, and they have no way of checking and fully assessing either the accuracy or the significance of the information they receive.

The ladders by themselves are insufficient to protect the public or the local authority’s employees from harm. If a person was to fall 10m from the seaward side of the East Pier tomorrow, the chances are they will strike either concrete, steel or rock and die. Even if they were fortunate enough to avoid these hazards, and fall directly into the sea, they are still in jeopardy. They may well die of shock, a heart attack, exposure, or drowning. Who would feel confident of performing a successful rescue, with only one ladder and two lifebelts, especially if amateurs were employing the latter? Incidentally, the ladder itself is far from user-friendly.

A holistic approach is required in order to gain a full appreciation of the dangers which exist on Whitby’s East Pier. Thousands of potential trip hazards festoon the whole of the pier’s deck (see attached photos 2 and 3). The seaward edges of the same deck are bedevilled by significant stretches of crumbling stonework (see attached photo 4), and irregular and spalling stonework (see attached photos 5 and 6). Both the trip hazards and the deplorable state of the edges offer very real potential to cause members of the public to fall to their death, from the seaward side of the East Pier. A trip is a sudden and involuntary act, in which the victim temporally loses control of his footing and balance. So where he ends up remains somewhat in the hands of providence. On the East Pier, such an occurrence could well be fatal. The risk assessments produced by SBC indicated that they fully understood the potentially lethal nature of the hazards on the deck of the East Pier. However, they have made little or no attempt to eliminate these hazards. When Balfour Beatty ‘renovated’ the East Pier, during 2017-18, they carried out no work whatsoever to its deck surface or its edges.

Instead of instigating a responsible maintenance regime SBC and, since 5 April 2023, North Yorkshire Council (NYC) have deployed a deadly culture of neglect. Other areas of the harbour are increasingly hazardous because of the ongoing lack of maintenance and repair. Photo 7 provides a sad example of such neglect: what you see are the remains of a wooden ladder on the harbour side of the West Pier. In the report published in 2009 by SBC’s consultant, Royal Haskoning, this ladder was specifically identified before being condemned. It was to be replaced as a matter of urgency. I would refer you to pages 61-64 of the report. Yet here we are, 15 years later, still with the rotten remnants of the very same ladder in place. The failure to replace this ladder could well cost some unfortunate person their life.

The current state of the quay to the Fish Market is a source of great distress to the users of Whitby Harbour, because it is literally falling apart. Components have dropped off the structure; key wooden members are rotten; many of the repairs are amateurish; and one ladder has been declared ‘unsafe’ but not replaced (see attached photos 8, 9, 10 and 11). One of the quay’s supporting stanchions, which fell off the quay, ended up across the river on Tate Hill Sands (see photo 12). One elderly fisherman told me that the current state of the quay reminded him of his grandfather’s old allotment shed. To allow the quay to fall into such serious disrepair verges on vandalism. However, it provides a further insight into SBC’s neglect and attitude towards maintenance.

Returning to the East Pier. In your letter dated 24th March 2022, you referred to the document ‘Guidance of Water Safety and Use of Buoyancy Equipment in Ports’ (SIP020). The guidance explains that ‘the requirement for fencing does not apply to areas where there is no work activity being undertaken.’ However, there is work activity on the East Pier. For the council operatives who service the warning beacon on the seaward end of the East Pier Extension, the East Pier is their only means of access. Furthermore, the pitiful state of the Pier’s deck and edges will require constant and ongoing maintenance of some level for the foreseeable future. The operatives undertaking these works are therefore entitled to the protection of safety railings, as a duty of care.

The guidance also states that the requirements with regard to fencing are ‘subject to any foreseeable risk to members of the public’. In this respect, I would refer you to the SBC risk assessment, ref no. CHA W/36/REV5 dated 14th April 2021. The first hazard is identified as ‘Drowning – entry into water either intentionally or otherwise’. It then identifies the people ‘who might be harmed and how’ as ‘staff and/or general public at risk from, trips and falls into water resulting in drowning – entering water either intentionally or otherwise. People also at risk of being swept off the piers and other access areas, due to heavy breaking seas’. SBC were also well aware that a fall from the pier was not restricted to the danger of drowning. This is evidenced by their signs warning, ‘Danger. Do not jump – underwater obstructions present’. The obstructions being steel sheet piles, concrete and rock, all of which could instantly kill a faller, given the height of the Pier. Therefore, SBC clearly identified a ‘foreseeable risk to members of the public’.

To the best of my knowledge, SBC have carried out virtually no maintenance to either the deck or the dangerous edges of the Whitby East Pier in the last 20 years. From time to time, they have done some mortar pointing which, ironically, possibly increased the number of trip hazards. To be frank, I suspect the elimination of all the trip hazards is nigh on impossible. The following SBC notice on the East Pier practically admits this by advising: ‘risks of slips or trips due to historic ancient structure.’

As you know, just over twelve months ago responsibility for Whitby harbour passed to NYC. However, in the intervening year, no work has taken place on the East Pier. Over the last two years, the condition of the East Pier deck has markedly deteriorated. In addition to trips and slips, it is now possible to break a leg. However, the SBC risk assessment of 14 th April 2021 has not been revised. The local authority, NYC, accepts that an accidental trip or slip could cause an innocent person to fall from the seaward side of the East Pier. What faces them at the foot of the pier is death by drowning or by impacting on steel, concrete or rock. NYC are either incapable or unwilling to eliminate the trip hazards on the deck or to replace the stonework on the dangerous edges. These dangers were highlighted 15 years ago, in the Royal Haskoning report of 2009.

So, deadly hazards exist on the East Pier deck and edges due to the local authorities’ failure to maintain. Although the authority has a duty of care, all they offer is a warning not to trip over the hazards they have effectively elected to leave in place. At the same time, they acknowledge that such accidental trips could cause a member to fall from the East Pier to his/her death. This is a nonsense. If NYC choose to expose the public to the dangers and consequences of trip hazards, the very least they could do is to install safety railings to prevent them falling from the pier to their deaths.

I have long been a critic of SBC’s record in respect of inspection, maintenance and safety matters associated with Whitby harbour. The transfer to NYC has not delivered any improvement. The people of Whitby look to the HSE to protect them from the local authority’s apparent indifference in these matters. I urge you to visit Whitby harbour in person and to view for yourself the multiple safety exposures that are causing so much concern to harbour users and local residents.

Yours sincerely
Vin McLaughlan

What will the HSE’s response be? Will they continue to believe the lies that they have been told by council(s)? Or will they inspect things for themselves and actually do their job?

The only comment from NYC thus far is “The Council has Marine Port Package insurance with Travelers Insurance”. Wonder whether “Travelers Insurance” are aware of the state of what they have insured.

There has been a reply from NYC Cllr Derek Bastiman, as follows

Dear Mr McLaughlan

I am writing with reference to previous correspondence in relation to the Whitby Fish Market Quay and East Pier at Whitby Harbour.  Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your original letter, however, extensive work has been underway by the Harbours Team in the intervening period.

I would first wish to address the issue of the condition of the East Pier.  As you will be aware, the East Pier sits in a very exposed position and is subject to a range of extreme weather conditions which can, and does, cause damage to the pier on a regular basis.  Most recently, the Pier has suffered some additional storm damage and is now closed whilst repairs are undertaken.  This work will be expedited to minimise disruption to the public.  With regards to the provision of railings and other protective measures on the Pier, extensive risk assessments have been undertaken following discussions with partners to mitigate, as far as possible, the risks associated with the Pier.  Whilst I accept that it will never be possible to eliminate all of this risk without permanently closing the pier to the public, the current approach which involves comprehensive signage and pier closures in inclement weather, was discussed with the Health and Safety Executive in 2022 and was found to be fit for purpose.

Turning now to the condition of the Fish Market Quay, our engineers are aware of the deteriorating nature of some of the structure and had arranged for a contractor to undertake repair works.  Unfortunately the contractor has recently withdrawn from the project and whilst a new contractor is sourced, the Quay will be continually monitored by our engineering team.  I am hopeful that repair works with a new contractor will commence in the near future.

I would wish to assure you that the safety of the public and harbour users remains our top priority and we will continue to work internally and with our partners to regularly review operational risks and implement additional measures as necessary.

Kind regards
Cllr Derek Bastiman

Interestingly, Cllr Bastiman is very short on actual details; he makes no mention of the pier extensions, or the ladders that were explicitly referred to in the letter. We understand that the same person has promised all sorts of help for the harbour in the past and never delivered. Maybe attention to detail is a problem within NYC and that is the heart of the problem?

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