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April 16, 2009

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Inquest lambasts foreman for colleague’s trench death

A fatal accident inquiry has criticised the role of the foreman on a building site in Lanarkshire, where a workman died after being buried alive.

Kevin West, 36, suffocated after an eight-foot-high trench caved in on him while he was laying drainage pipes, during the construction of a block of flats in Hamilton. The sides of the trench did not have any supports installed, and collapsed after a dumper truck was positioned on unsupported ground next to the trench.

Mr West was working for WH Malcolm, the sub-contractor on the site, when the incident took place on 14 November 2004. The firm was fined £100,000 in October 2007 for breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, in relation to the accident.

Following the prosecution the Lord Advocate in Scotland requested an inquiry into the incident, as he was not satisfied that the circumstances of the death had been sufficiently established.

In his ruling on the inquiry’s findings, Sheriff Douglas Brown criticised the site foreman, Patrick Gaughan, who he said had “little regard” for safety. He concluded that Gaughan had not briefed the workmen on safety, failed to ensure trench shoring was installed, and allowed a dumper truck to be positioned, by an unqualified driver, on unsupported ground.

Sheriff Brown said: “When Mr Gaughan gave evidence it became clear that the picture of him presented by WH Malcolm was completely at odds with the way he was operating.

“Far from being the very safety-conscious individual described, he appeared to have had little, if any, regard for the health and safety of the men for whom he was responsible.

“The requirement for shoring was repeatedly emphasised throughout WH Malcolm’s health and safety documentation. Mr Gaughan ignored this basic safety requirement and put at risk the life of anyone working in the trench.”

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