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February 4, 2010

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Unsuitable manhole cover destablises cherry picker

A construction firm has been criticised for put the lives of workers

and pedestrians at risk by failing to install adequate manhole covers

to support moving machinery at a building site in central Nottingham.

Magistrates heard that Shepherd Construction Ltd was the principal contractor for the construction of a shopping centre at Trinity Square. On 20 August 2007, a worker on the site drove a cherry picker over a concealed manhole cover, which gave way under the weight of the machine, and caused the vehicle to topple over.

The long-reaching arm of the machine was extended and landed on a road, which had been occupied by pedestrians and vehicles only seconds before. The driver of the cherry picker was operating it from inside the basket, and fell 48 feet when the vehicle overturned. He suffered four cracked vertebrae in his neck, fractures to his ankles, leg, and shoulder, and he also sustained serious head injuries.

HSE inspector Martin Giles attended the scene on the day of the incident, and discovered that a number of other concealed manhole covers had not been identified and were not suitably protected. He issued a Prohibition Notice to stop moving vehicles from working on the site until all the manhole covers had been located, and suitable protective measures put in place.

Inspector Giles said: “This was a very dangerous incident, in an area which was bustling with pedestrians and vehicles. It could so easily have led to people being killed and has left a worker with serious injuries.

“The company failed to put in place adequate measures to find and record where the manholes and service covers were around the site and failed to take steps to protect them or prevent vehicles from driving over them.”

Shepherd Construction Ltd appeared at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on 3 February and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6900.

In mitigation, the company said it had complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice by recording the location of the manholes and informing workers of these positions. It also ensured that the covers were either suitable to take the weight of the machines, or put fencing round them to prevent access.

This is not the firm’s first safety conviction; in July 2004, it was fined £3000 and ordered to pay £7000 in costs after a sub-contractor fell from a scaffold and landed on another worker.

Inspector Giles added: “Operators of mobile elevating work platforms, such as scissor lifts and cherry pickers, must be warned about manhole covers and underground services because there is a real risk of them collapsing and heavy vehicles toppling over.

“When people’s lives are at risk it is absolutely inexcusable to leave this to chance.”

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