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November 12, 2009

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Fatal fall caused by faulty fixings

Two companies must pay a combined total of £210,000 in fines and costs after a worker died and another was serious injured during the construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

Isleworth Crown Court heard that Matthew Gilbert and Parminder Singh were part of a team building a multi-storey car park at Terminal 5. Both men were employees of Laing O’Rourke Infrastructure Ltd, the principal contractor on the site, and were installing a cantilevered section on the side of the car park, when the incident took place on 3 August 2005.

A concrete slab was lowered into place by a crane to form the base of the cantilevered section. The workers were attempting to secure the slab to the side of the building by using Threaded Shoring Adaptors (TSAs). As they disconnected the slab from the crane, the TSAs failed and the slab collapsed, causing both men to fall 50 feet to the ground.

Mr Gilbert died as a result of the fall, but Mr Singh survived and suffered multiple serious injuries, including fractures to his back, leg and jaw. He still suffers from pain in his back when walking or sitting.

An HSE investigation discovered that the TSAs had been supplied by SGB Services Ltd, and were part of a defective batch that was meant to have been recalled. The inspection also identified that Laing O’Rourke was aware of the defects and should have checked all of its TSAs to ensure all of the faulty adaptors had been returned to SGB. A Prohibition Notice was subsequently issued against Laing O’Rourke to ensure that the sub-standard TSAs were no longer used.

HSE inspector Karen Morris said: “The tragic death of one man and the serious injuries suffered by his colleague could have been prevented if both companies had had more robust systems in place. It is vital that safety-critical components are inspected before use to ensure that defective equipment is not used.”

Laing O’Rourke Infrastructure Ltd appeared in court on 5 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £75,000 in costs. SGB Services Ltd appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to s3(1) and s6(1)(c) of the same Act, for failing to adequately test the equipment that it supplied. It was fined £30,000 and an additional £30,000 in costs.

A statement from Laing O’Rourke said: “This was an isolated and tragic accident and our thoughts are with the family of Matthew Gilbert and with Parminder Singh. Laing O’Rourke is committed to ensuring safety on all its sites and deeply regrets the circumstances, which led to this incident. Lessons have been learned from this, to ensure that nothing like this can happen again. The primary focus of the company is for everyone to get home safely, every day.”

In mitigation, SGB Services said it had no previous convictions and added that the incident would have been avoided if Laing O’Rourke had returned the faulty TSAs, when it was informed that the parts needed to be recalled.

A spokesperson for SGB Services said: “Like all other customers, Laing O’Rourke was immediately warned of the issue and given assistance by SGB to identify any sub-standard TSAs for return to SGB. In total, 628 sub-standard TSAs had been supplied to customers. Nearly all of them were returned from other sites but unfortunately the investigation into this incident showed that a number were not returned by Laing O’Rourke at T5, despite many of those having been marked two years earlier in 2003 for return.
“SGB acknowledges that it should have had better systems in place in 2003 to ensure that the substandard TSAs were not supplied in the first place. SGB also notes that if the downrated TSAs had been returned, as requested in August 2003, the accident would not have occurred.”
Inspector Morris added: “It is crucial that recall programmes are carried out effectively and thoroughly, so that defective components can not, under any circumstances, be brought back into circulation.

“This case demonstrates an extremely serious failure of both the principal contractor and the supplier to ensure the materials it supplied for the work were fit for purpose.”

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