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April 22, 2013

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Workers weren’t trained to carry out dangerous maintenance work

Two companies have been ordered to pay almost £90,000 in fines and costs between them, after a pair of rail-maintenance workers were crushed by a ballast regulator.

Sentenced at Cambridge Crown Court on 19 April, Babcock Rail and Swietelsky Construction were fined £36,000 and £24,000, respectively, in relation to the incident, on 25 March 2009, at the Whitemoor Rail Depot in Cambridgeshire.

Two workers and a supervisor were carrying out repairs to the ballast regulator, which is used to redistribute gravel and broken stone to support tracks along a railway line. The workers were injured while using a hydraulic car jack to support an internal part of the ballast regulator, in order to replace the machine’s sacrificial wear plates. The plates are located underneath the machine, inside the brush box, which is fixed to a deflector arm and lowered on to the track.

The car jack – which was not designed for, or tested to carry out heavy work –collapsed, causing the machine to crush an employee of Swietelsky Construction. He received multiple facial fractures and continues to suffer the effects of a brain injury. An employee from Babcock Rail also sustained injuries to his left eye and face.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found that both companies had failed to carry out a specific risk assessment for replacing wear plates inside the ballast regulator. It also found that the employees hadn’t received a safety briefing, or been trained in how to replace the wear plates on the machine. The absence of this training and instruction led the workers to decide for themselves how to carry out the work, which exposed them to unnecessary risks.

Both firms were charged under s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. At a plea and case management hearing on 5 October last year, Swietelsky Construction pleaded guilty and Babcock pleaded not guilty. In January this year, Babcock indicated by letter that it had changed its plea to guilty.

Following the sentencing, Tom Wake, ORR’s principal inspector (South East), railway safety, said: “No employee should ever be set to work on dangerous machinery without appropriate support and training. In this instance, on 25 March 2009, Swietelsky Construction and Babcock Rail caused two rail workers to suffer serious head injuries at the Whitemoor Rail Depot because of poor planning and lack of employee training.”

Babcock Rail and Swietelsky Construction were also ordered to pay £16,728 and £13,000 in costs, respectively.

SHP has contacted both companies for a statement in relation to the case and is awaiting their responses.

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