Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
August 10, 2008

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Carillion to pay GBP 94K after young employee fell to his death

Construction giant Carillion JM, formerly known as Mowlem, was fined £70,000 and ordered to pay £24,000 towards HSE costs after an inexperienced employee died in a 17m fall inside an oil storage tank.

Maidstone Crown Court heard on 30 July that a large, steel oil-storage tank was being built at the Air BP fuel depot site on the Isle of Grain, Kent, in December 2003.

The shell of the tank, which comprised a series of 12 steel plates, eight rings high and 34m in diameter, had been completed, and staging platforms put in place 1.2m below the rim on both the outside and inside of the tank. In order to lift the roof frame from the bottom to the top of the tank and weld it into place, some of the internal scaffold was removed.

On 11 December, the 40-tonne roof was lifted into position by four cranes working together in what was described as a “complicated lift” by John Underwood, the HSE inspector who investigated the case. Welders had to work from the inside of the tank to weld the roof into position, so the staging boards and brackets that had been taken out had to be fed back into place.

When Alexander McCully, an ‘improver’ steel-plate installer who had only worked at the site for 14 weeks, climbed on to the roof of the tank to do this, he dropped down 1.2 metres on to one of the few remaining stages inside it. As he hit the centre board it snapped, causing him to fall 17m to his death to the floor below.

“There were a lot of things wrong on this job,” the inspector told SHP. “Firstly, they could have used ropes, hooks, or tongs to reach into the tank to feed the boards into place.

“Secondly, it could have been built using the complete staging on the outside of the tank. They chose to put men on the inside of the tank, who were climbing on to a very incomplete platform.

“Lastly, although all the workers were wearing safety harnesses, there was nothing on the rim of the tank for them to clip their lanyards on to.” Although the workers had been told to ask a welder if they needed anchor points, “this was a high-pressure activity, and all of the necessary anchors should have been planned out and welded into place before the cranes arrived on site,” inspector Underwood elaborated.

For the harnesses to be used effectively there needed to be about 50 anchor points around the rim of the storage tank. In addition ‘erection nuts’, which the company said it had used as harness anchors, had been hammered into place and, inevitably, would have sustained small cracks.

Carillion said in mitigation that all its workers had attended ‘toolbox talk’ training sessions in the workplace and it felt it had put a system in place, but “that system was completely flawed” according to the HSE.

Carillion had pleaded guilty over a year ago, in May 2007, to breaching s2(1) of HSWA 1974 by not ensuring its employees’ safety, but sentence was delayed because of extensive technical arguments by the firm.

“The difficulty in relying on a technical argument is that it misses the issue — you cannot rely on a relatively young and inexperienced worker, who is under intense pressure, to instruct a welder to weld on extra attachment points, or inspect a little plate to make sure it has no cracks in it,” inspector Underwood asserted.

He concluded: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, which led to unnecessary loss of life. I hope this case and the fine imposed will serve as a lesson to scaffold-builders and the tank-building industry, and will make sure others avoid a similar fate”.

(The image is an internal view of Tank 42, showing the roof-space frame lowered back to the ground, the staging platform with two of three sections removed, and a gap left by failed board.)

The Safety Conversation Podcast: Listen now!

The Safety Conversation with SHP (previously the Safety and Health Podcast) aims to bring you the latest news, insights and legislation updates in the form of interviews, discussions and panel debates from leading figures within the profession.

Find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts, subscribe and join the conversation today!

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments