Editor’s comment: We must treat near misses seriously

The bricks fell from above Stokey Vintage Cafe.

The bricks fell from above Stokey Vintage Cafe. - Credit: Archant

Like many, I watched footage of the collapsing building in Stoke Newington High Street in horror.

It’s hard to believe no one was killed or injured, especially when you see how close the world’s luckiest passer-by came to being crushed beneath the rubble. It’s a stretch of pavement I and many of my friends have walked probably dozens of times (it’s over the road from a very good chip shop), a busy shopping street connecting two town centres. And the building in question is separated from a busy bus and bicycle lane by just a couple of yards of pavement.

Whether the collapse was the fault of subsidence, vandalism, poor building work, a lack of maintenance, an isolated earthquake or whatever else, it was not by design that the body count was zero: it was a complete, terrifying fluke.

There could easily have been casualties, any number of them fatal, and it is vital that we bear this in mind while establishing whose fault it is and what they did wrong.

The rush to test and replace cladding at tower blocks across the UK in 2017, whose safety failings were near misses rather than tragedies, would not have been nearly so frenzied had it not been framed by the recent memory of 71 people being killed in a tower many had already raised concerns about. You can understand why Hackney residents were so nervous about the wonky brickwork at Bridport House on the edge of Hoxton Park last year – the same development where a balcony collapsed in February.

We must treat the potential for disaster as seriously as a disaster itself. I hope I never again read or hear the ridiculous expression “health and safety gone mad”.

By definition, something went very badly wrong last week – buildings shouldn’t disintegrate when it gets a bit windy. We need to understand what happened as a matter of urgency, and the responsible professionals should be made to account for it.