Britain’s biggest trade union has demanded health and safety inspectors launch an urgent inquiry into a scaffolding collapse that left three people in hospital.
The collapse on Thursday saw “bricks and wood going flying” amid “a cloud of rubble smoke” as people fled the scene.
A site worker at the former Friars Walk Shopping Centre was treated for a head injury, while a man and a woman were treated for suspected shock and an ankle injury, respectively.
None of the three was seriously hurt, but all were taken to hospital following the incident in Garrard Street, shortly after 11.15am.
Emergency staff could be seen with dogs searching the wreckage at around 3pm.
Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “A full inquiry must not just include the immediate reasons for the scaffolding collapse but also examine whether the work had been sub-let, were
all the workers on site properly employed, and did they all have the appropriate skills and training.
“It is essential that we learn the lessons from this accident to prevent similar serious incidents in the future.”
A personal assistant who gave her name only as Amy she was having coffee on the 14th floor of the nearby Thames Tower building when she saw the scaffolding move.
She said: “I thought ‘that’s moving way too fast’ and then it just collapsed.
“I saw people running away from it. It was like a movie. Bricks and wood going flying and a cloud of rubble smoke.
“There was a lady at the end who just didn’t make it. It sort of just covered her as it fell.
“She was maybe in her 60s. I saw her being pulled out and put in the recovery position. She was moving around so I think she was OK.
“There was a worker in the rubble as it fell but his fall looked like it was broken and he was able to jump out of it.
“I think it could have been a lot worse. The people that were there had a very lucky escape. It was quite traumatising.”
Pictures posted online showed a section of scaffolding surrounding a building had collapsed, covering a section of road.
Images show a digger parked behind the crumpled part of the structure.
Firefighters earlier used thermal imaging equipment to search for anyone who may have been trapped but no-one was found.
Owing to the “complexity of the incident”, emergency staff would remain on scene for a “prolonged period of time” and Garrard Street and a multi-storey car park would stay closed to the public, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service said.
Thames Valley Police later said: “The car park in Garrard Street has now reopened for people to remove their vehicles following today’s scaffolding collapse. It remains closed for general use at this time. People are still advised to avoid the area.”
Tony Heselton, incident commander for South Central Ambulance Service, said: “Our emergency operations control room team took upwards of 10 emergency calls from around 11.15am all reporting a scaffolding collapse at the former Friars Walk Shopping Centre.
“We have assessed three patients who sustained minor injuries as a result of the collapse.”
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spokesman said: “We are aware of an incident and are making initial inquiries.”
The site was being demolished as part of a major redevelopment in the town centre and was previously used as retail and office space, Reading Council said.
McGee was the main demolition contractor on the site.
A McGee spokesperson told industry website Construction Inquirer: “We can confirm there has been an incident today at one of our sites in Reading. We are investigating and will provide further updates when facts are available.”