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April 15, 2010

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Work-at-height failings costs firm GBP 200k

A plant hire company has been fined £200,000 for failing to ensure the safety of its workers after an employee fell five metres to his death.

Maidstone Crown Court heard that the incident took place at Ashtead Plant Hire Co Ltd’s (trading as APlant) depot in Tovil, Maidstone. The site offers portable accommodation for hire, which include site huts, welfare units, and storage containers.

Philip Pearce, 55, was working as a fitter at the site where he repaired and cleaned returning containers. On 16 August 2006, a sub-contracted driver arrived at the depot to collect one of the units.

There was a written procedure of work at the site that required the containers to be lowered by a lorry-mounted crane. This also stated that a trained member of staff was needed to climb up the units and attach lifting chains, while wearing a safety harness and inertia reel line. But the company had not relayed this method of work to untrained members of staff.

As there was nobody else available, Mr Pearce climbed on to the top of the stack to attach the lifting chains. During this process he fell off the back of the unit and landed on the ground five metres below. He died at the scene as a result of his injuries.

On the same day, the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice against the firm to stop all work at height at the site until the company’s method of work had been reviewed. The HSE’s investigation found that workers at the depot were unaware that the company had a special procedure for undertaking this work.

HSE Inspector John Underwood said: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, which led to a tragic and totally unnecessary loss of life. It is completely inexcusable that the company had identified the risks, prepared an adequate procedure to manage the risk, and then failed to implement that procedure to protect their workers.

“Health and safety is not just about filling in forms, or thinking about risk – it’s about taking action to prevent people being killed or injured while trying to do their job.

“I hope this case will be an example to other companies that health and safety must not only be taken seriously but also followed through.”

The firm appeared in court on 13 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £15,698 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous related convictions and deeply regretted the incident. It has carried out a full review of its work-at-height procedures across all its depots and now uses forklift trucks to move the containers.

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