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May 27, 2011

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Builder fined £100k for trench collapse fatality

A foreign construction worker was buried alive during the building of a basement at a property in London, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

Arlindo Visentin, a 58-year-old worker from Brazil, was part of a team of four men employed by Nadeem Aftab to build a basement at a private property in Belgravia, when the incident took place, on 13 June 2007.

The team had underpinned the building’s walls and the earth that remained following the underpinning had been placed in the central part of the basement. A trench ran between the earth and all four walls, but the earth was not properly supported and cracked and gave way while Mr Visentin was inside the trench. When they saw the crack develop, his colleagues shouted to warn him that the trench was about to collapse, but he did not understand much English and so did not attempt to escape.

He was subsequently submerged beneath approximately five tonnes of dirt when the trench collapsed. His colleagues dug him out of the dirt and drove him to hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

The HSE visited the scene on the same day and found that the trench walls were not properly supported and that the underpinning operation had not been properly planned. There was also no edge protection in place at the top of the basement to prevent falls into the excavation.

A Prohibition Notice was issued to Aftab, which required work at the site to cease until the earth was properly supported and edge protection was put in place.

HSE inspector Lisa Chappell said: “Mr Visentin spoke very little English and did not share a common language with any of the other workers, or with Mr Aftab.

“This incident highlights the need to have effective worker consultation and communication with all employees to ensure they understand the control measures that should be in place to prevent harm.

“Basement conversions involving underpinning are significant engineering projects and should be planned and managed by competent people. As a part of this, a competent temporary works engineer should design an appropriate sequence of works, and the work should be actively managed by a person who had the necessary knowledge, training and experience to ensure it is carried out safely.”

Aftab appeared at the Old Bailey on 24 May and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. He was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £61,590 in costs.

In mitigation, he said he had no previous convictions and told the court he was in poor health at the time of the incident, which had not left him in a fit state to manage the site. He added that he never restarted work at the site, as the property owner hired a new contractor to finish the renovations after the incident.

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11 years ago

To me this tragedy highlights one of the fundemental failures of CDM. Because it was a ‘domestic’ there was no monitoring of skills / competence. The only criteria is cheapness. Surely all works of this nature should fall under CDM so it can be at least monitored by a competent person.

11 years ago

Maybe I’m missing something here, but is there a difference between this case where there is only a relatively small fine and that of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd where corporate manslaughter was brought after the initial charge of manslaughter was dropped?

11 years ago

Gerry, it’s a very good point. On the face of it the two cases look remarkably similar. I would not call a £100k fine plus £61k costs, given that it probably a small enterprise. That said, from the evidence it appears that gross negilgence manslaughter was not out of the question either. Why was the Director not barred from a directorship?

I love the mitigation – what an insult to justice and the deceased!