Journalist, SHP Online

December 19, 2016

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Building firm fined over lone worker’s trench death

A Borders-based building firm has been fined £30,000 after a lone worker died when he was crushed by falling soil in a collapsed trench.

George Wilson, 64, was carrying out drainage work with a mechanical excavator at Heriot Mill Farm, Heriot in August 2014, when a section of the trench he was excavating collapsed while he was in it. Mr Wilson suffered fatal injuries with the cause of death being given as traumatic asphyxia and chest injuries.

Mr Wilson’s wife reported him missing at 23:30 and two police officers made their way to the field where he had been working shortly after 01:00. The officers heard the noise of the excavator engine running.

Depute fiscal Gary Aitken said: “A large slab of wet clay-like soil, approximately 30 feet long, appeared to have collapsed from the side of the trench.”

The officer’s found Mr Wilson’s body trapped by the weight of the soil.

“Although his head was exposed his face was pressed against the opposite side of the trench,” Mr Aitken said.

“He was cold to touch and it was clear to the officers that he was dead.”

Safety failings

The company admitted:

  • failing to ensure a safe system of work was in place for carrying out drainage excavation works;
  • failing to ensure that the soils from the excavation were battened back to a safe angle; and
  • failing to ensure there was a clear communication policy with the employee in place while he was working alone.

Rodger Builders Ltd, of Station Road, Earlston pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

Sheriff Peter Paterson said an aggravating factor was that the risk was well known and readily identifiable.

However, he took into account the company’s safety record and working practices and from a starting point of £45,000, reduced the fine to £30,000 to be paid within two months.

Mitigation

Peter Gray QC said: “The company has an excellent safety record.

“It has no previous convictions or relevant enforcement action against them.

“It is of the greatest concern and remorse that on 11 August 2014, Mr Wilson, a valuable and popular employee lost his life during the course of his employment.”

Following the accident the company stopped carrying out agricultural drainage work.

A statement on behalf of the family said: “Although the outcome of this case can never make up for the loss of George, we hope that it will help to avoid such a tragedy blighting another family in the future.”

 

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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp

The deceased was such a ‘valuable’ employee that his employer failed to ensure a SSOW was in place, work alone and never checked to see whether he returned home safely after his shift.

J. Foster
J. Foster

“The company has an excellent safety record…. It has no previous convictions or relevant enforcement action against them.” What about pro-active monitoring? Why wasn’t the above “safety failings” identified? Having no (or little) previous HSE or other involvement sometimes works against companies…… OK until it (all) goes wrong. .

Neil
Neil

There but for the grace go a lot of builders and their workers, locally a company whose website proudly proclaims their accreditations including RoSPA Membership has been working for my employer, the guys on the site have worked out there’s someone watching them, actually its more than just one. The first report to my employer was about workers in the bottom of 10-12 foot deep excavations with minimal trench sheeting on 2 of the 4 faces, none on the other 2, followed by further reports when they extended the holes into trenches, using trench boxes with gaps of 4-5 feet… Read more »