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May 3, 2010

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Farm death highlights danger of ‘have a go’ construction

A worker died when a one-tonne pre-cast concrete panel, which he was trying to manoeuvre to help build a farm shed, toppled over and crushed him.

The worker was helping a colleague build a perimeter wall at an open hay shed by using a telescopic handler, when the accident occurred on 3 June 2008. They attached slings to the panel via the bolts and hooks provided, and hooked the slings over the forks of the telescopic handler.

The panel was standing upright on the ground but still attached to the vehicle’s forks through the slings. The worker was trying to shuffle the panel into position with his back against it but there was too much slack in the slings and the panel slipped off the forks, crushing the man. He died from his injuries at the scene.

HSE inspectors found that the method of suspending the panel from the slings supported by the forks did not allow the panel to rotate freely, as it would have done if supported by another device, such as a crane hook.

Inspector Gillian McLean said the victim’s employer, Hamilton Farmers (East Lothian) failed to properly assess the risks and implement a safe system of work. She explained: “Had they assessed the risks they would have realised that the workers were not competent, or qualified to do the task.”

Pleading guilty to a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, the family farm was fined £20,000 at Haddington Sheriff Court on 26 April. No costs are awarded in Scotland.

The farm mitigated that it had cooperated fully with the HSE and entered an early guilty plea. After being issued with an Improvement Notice expressing concerns from an HSE specialist inspector about the structural stability and adequacy of the shed, the farm decided to demolish the building and start again – presumably, said the inspector, using trained and competent persons.

“Unfortunately, the use of pre-cast concrete panels to build farm buildings is commonplace,” said inspector McLean. “It is also commonplace for farmers and workers in the agricultural sector to ‘have a go’ at building constructions when they are not properly trained, or equipped in structural engineering and health and safety practices.”

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