• Construction contractor Kier ordered by Court to pay £1.5m for health and safety failings
• Kier found culpable for failing to protect a worker whose leg was crushed when an excavation collapsed
The Injured Party, Vincent Talbot, was working in an unshored trench which collapsed and resulted in serious injuries. His leg was broken in six places and his right ankle was left permanently damaged.
Kier MG was employed as the principal contractor on a project to build new storm drains for Lincolnshire County Council. Kier sub-contracted the work to John Henry & Sons who also subcontracted it out to Lawless Civils. This was done without informing Kier.
Lawless were also deemed responsible for the accident on the basis that they employed a supervisor at the Holbeach site who had no relevant experience, training or qualifications.
Health and Safety Provision
It was accepted in Court that a three-metre long trench box was installed in the excavation to protect those working in it. However, this was insufficient as it was only half the length of the pipes being installed. Additionally, there were no other forms of protection such as trench sheeting.
Moreover, the trench was left open overnight and Lawless was using an unauthorized method of work and material. They used concrete to bed in the pipes, instead of pea gravel which had been a specified requirement of the Lincolnshire authority.
Perverting the Course of Justice
Lincoln Crown Court also heard that after the accident John Henry & Sons backdated the method statement for the work to give the impression that it was signed by the workers before the collapse. This was considered by the Court to be completely unacceptable and underhand. The Court found that failings which contributed to the accident were systemic and extensive, but that the attempt to cover up their failings in such a dishonest manner substantially aggravated the case.
• Kier MG pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and was fined £1.5 million. It was ordered to pay £23,327 costs.
• John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) denied a charge of breaching s 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act but was found guilty at trial. It was fined a very substantial sum of £550,000 plus £166,217 costs.
• Lawless Civils pleaded guilty to breaching s 3(1) of the HSW Act. It was fined £40,500 and ordered to pay £53,346.59.
HSE inspector Martin Waring said the project was flawed from the planning stage onwards. “Even while the excavation phase had begun, a catalogue of errors and omissions led to the injuries of Vincent Talbot.”
Furthermore, he went on to discuss the ongoing serious risk of the unsupported trench and the foreseeability of the accident:
“It is inevitable that at some time an unsupported trench will collapse, for this reason safe systems of work, should be in place in order to protect persons who work in trenches. We could easily have been dealing with a fatal incident.”
Safety Smart Comment
• This case demonstrates how it is essential for all dutyholders to ensure that health and safety as a whole is properly considered and planned in advance and that failure to do so can result in all parties being held accountable by the HSE.
• This case and the fines that the Court passed brings home to all parties involved in CDM contracts that is not acceptable to just consider culpability form an individual contractors perspective.
• The HSE will continue to prosecute all parties who have any party to play in accidents on CDM sites as the CDM regulations stipulate that a joined up approach to health and safety must be considered from the outset and evidenced in a detailed stage by stage manner in the supporting legally required documentation.
• Failure to consider the implications of all stages of a CDM project can be catastrophic in terms of the risk and injury.
• It can also result in very damaging adverse publicity and an extremely expensive fine which is now being handed out under the relatively new sentencing regime introduced last February 2016.