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March 8, 2010

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Worker buried alive after unsupported trench collapsed

Workers at a construction site used an excavator to rescue one of their colleagues who was buried under falling debris after a trench collapsed.

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court heard that Anthony Hill had been contracted to carry out groundwork during the construction of a racehorse-training centre at Penny Farm near Brinkley, Cambridgeshire.

One of Hill’s employees, Mark Miller, was laying a French drain inside a trench, when the incident took place on 22 October 2007. The walls of the three-metre-deep trench were not supported, and one of the sides collapsed, trapping Mr Miller’s leg. One of his colleagues was working next to the trench but before he could help, the other side of the trench caved in and completely buried Mr Miller.

Workers at the site scrambled to use an excavator to dig out Mr Miller before he suffocated. They managed to remove enough earth to uncover his head and allow him to breathe before the emergency services arrived to free him. He was taken to hospital for treatment for a broken leg, and was unable to return to work for a number of weeks.

The HSE visited the site the following day and issued a Prohibition Notice against excavations on the site until a safe method of work was introduced. HSE Principal Inspector Norman Macritchie said: “This worker suffered a broken leg and bruising, and was incredibly fortunate to survive the horror of being buried alive.

“These types of easily-preventable incidents are all-too common and often prove fatal, so it is absolutely essential that employers and contractors ensure they have measures in place to protect their staff.

“Groundwork can be extremely dangerous and companies must make sure excavations are properly supported to avoid serious injury, or even death.”

Anthony Hill appeared in court on 4 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg. 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to install proper supports in the trench. He was fined £3500 and ordered to pay costs of £2000.

In mitigation, Hill said he had no previous convictions and had entered an early guilty plea. He also complied with the HSE’s investigation and the terms of the Prohibition Notice.


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