A director and three companies were prosecuted for safety offences after four men were crushed to death on a building site five years ago.
• Daniel Hazelton, 30, his brother Thomas Hazelton, 26, Adam Taylor, 28, and Peter Johnson, 42, died in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on 21 January 2011.
• A 13-tonne steel structure collapsed on them at Claxton Engineering.
• A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found serious flaws in the planning, management and monitoring of this complex project on the part of Claxton as well as Encompass and its company director, David Groucott.
• Two companies have been fined a total of £700,000 and a director has received a suspended prison sentence following the fatal crushing of four workers at the excavation site in Norfolk.
The Court at the Old Bailey heard that on 21 January 2011 the men were constructing a large steel structure as part of the foundation for a large Pressure Test Facility (PTF) at Claxton Engineering Services in Great Yarmouth.
The partially-built steel reinforcement which weighed several tonnes, collapsed on top of the group. A large-scale emergency response took place to try and rescue the trapped workers. However, they were all pronounced dead at the scene.
The excavation for the horizontal PTF was more than 23m long, 3m wide and 2m deep. The horizontal steel cage being constructed would have weighed about 32 tonnes when completed.
The group were working for Hazegood Construction Ltd. Daniel Hazelton was an employee, while the other three were self-employed contractors. Encompass Project Management Ltd was the principal contractor and Hazegood was operating as a contractor.
Defendants in Prosecution
Encompass Project Management were principle contractor and CDM co-ordinator on the project. Unfortunately, the HSE investigation discovered that the company was not competent to carry out the complex job and also that they shockingly failed to produce engineering drawings to show how the structure would be built.
Encompass’s director, David Groucott, who Hall said visited the site on several occasions, was handed a suspended jail sentence.
Additionally, the firm’s client, Norfolk based firm Claxton Engineering Services, failed in three fundamental ways:
i) to appoint a contractor that was competent
ii) to make “proper stipulations as to the appointment of subcontractors” and
iii) failed to ensure there was a construction phase plan in place.
Claxton Engineering Services Ltd of Ferryside, Ferry Road, Norwich pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 9(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £100,000.
Encompass Project Management Ltd of The Gables, Old Market Street, Thetford, Norfolk pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000.
David Groucott of Diss, Norfolk, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37(1) of Health and Safety at Work Act. He was sentenced to a seven and a half month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. He was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work within 12 months, and also ordered to pay costs of £7,500.
Charges against Hazegood Construction Ltd were ordered to lie on file.
HSE Construction Division Head of Operations Annette Hall said:
“Those sentenced today failed the four workers who died. They didn’t carry out their legal duties, leading to the events which caused their deaths.
“This was a long term, large scale and complex civil engineering project which needed to be planned, designed, managed and monitored effectively. The tragedy here is that, in the months leading up to the accident, any one of these parties could and should have asked basic questions about building the structure safely. Such an intervention could have avoided the tragic outcome of this entirely preventable accident.”
Safety Smart Comment:
• This case shows that with highly specialized works like this one which involved the construction of a Pressure Test Facility, it is fundamental to ensure that the contractor appointed is sufficiently skilled and experienced in this type of work. It is completely acceptable to request proof of previous jobs which demonstrates that a contractor has the necessary expertise. Safety Smart would in fact argue that clients should go further than this and actually contact previous clients to ascertain whether the job was done to the requisite standard and if the contractor adequately complied with their health and safety responsibilities.
• On a job of this nature, it is inconceivable that engineering drawings weren’t produced to show how the structure was going to be built. The HSE found that there was a catastrophic failure at all stages of this job, from the initial planning stages when the work was being considered and tendered for, to the oversight and management of the works and finally, a distinct lack of sufficient, competent monitoring which is essential for a job of this type, to identify if there were problems with the construction of the works which let to its unsafe handling and it ultimately tragically crushing four workers.