Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

December 11, 2014

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Aberdeen firm fined £135k after pipe fitter is fatally injured

An Aberdeen firm has been fined for safety failings after a worker died from severe head injuries when a connection porch on a sub-sea valve assembly he was working on fell over.

Donald John MacDonald, 55, of Fearn, Tain, an experienced pipe fitter, was working for JPR Fabrication Ltd at its Invergordon premises when the incident happened on 19 June 2011.

Tain Sheriff Court heard on 10 December that Mr MacDonald was working alongside two colleagues as he installed a section of pipework on a newly fabricated sub-sea valve assembly. The large assembly consisted of a centrally mounted isolation valve, fixed pipework and two sliding connection porches, all located within a steel frame.

The connection porches, each weighing 1.7 tonnes, provide the means to remotely connect sub-sea pipelines to the isolation valve on the sea bed. The porches are top heavy and held on the assembly by six securing plates. During fabrication the porches can be slid along the supporting seams to create a big enough gap to fit the pipework connecting them to the valve.

While working on the assembly, the six securing plates of one of the porches had been removed, leaving it unstable. With the pipework partially installed, Mr MacDonald started to work on the unsecured porch when it fell from the assembly pulling him off and landing on top of him.

He suffered multiple injuries, the most severe to his head and leg, and was airlifted to hospital but was pronounced dead a short time later.

An HSE investigation revealed that:

  • there was no specific risk assessment or safe system of work laid out for the task, which was considered a generic operation that was well within the capabilities of an experienced pipe fitter;
  • the porches were designed to slide along the framework with their securing plates in position so that there was no risk of them falling. However, because they were top heavy, if the plates were removed an alternative method to secure the porches was needed; and
  • in many cases workers either had to adjust or remove the securing plates to move the porches far enough to allow the pipework to be installed. This was done without a defined safe system of work, making the use of an unsafe system of work foreseeable.

The court heard that Mr MacDonald had earlier inserted a single bolt to temporarily hold the pipework to the porch before the securing plates were removed. When the plates were removed it was only this partially inserted bolt that held the porch in position. It is not known whether the bolt was removed deliberately or failed, but as soon as it was out the porch fell.

The company’s own internal investigation also concluded that the failure to identify the potential hazards had contributed to the incident. An action plan was developed and a review carried out of the use of risk assessments, toolbox talks and operation methodology, with further training provided as necessary.

JPR Fabrication Limited, of Ashley Group Base, Pitmedden Road, Dyce, Aberdeen, was fined £135,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE inspector Iain Sutherland, said: “This tragic incident would not have occurred if the risk of the porch toppling had been properly assessed before the securing plates were removed, and time taken to devise and implement an alternative safe system of work for moving the porch.

“While Mr MacDonald was an experienced pipe fitter, it is not clear whether he perceived the dangers associated with removing the end plates, and without any formal risk assessment or written safe system of work employees developed their own methods of carrying out the task.

“These failings resulted in the tragedy that cost Mr MacDonald his life.”

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