A joint venture of three contractors has been fined more than £1M for health and safety offences following the death of one worker and the injury of two others during construction of the Crossrail project.
BFK, a joint venture between Bam Nuttall, Ferrovial and Kier, entered a guilty plea for three offences at Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday 19 July. Crossrail itself was not a defendant in this case.
Today (Friday July 28) BFK was fined a total of £1.065M for the offences at Southwark Crown Court, and ordered to pay £42,337 in costs.
In all three offences, the JV was found to have failed to properly enforce exclusion zones on the construction sites which could have helped save workers from foreseeable risks.
The court heard how Tkáčik, 43, died after being crushed by falling wet concrete on 7 March 2014 as he worked on a section of tunnel at the Fisher Street site.
Work was being carried out to apply sprayed concrete inside the tunnel using a 6m telescopic arm. The prosecution told the court how the machine ran out of concrete, and work had to be paused.
Tkáčik then entered an exclusion zone to remove rebound concrete from metal Kwickstrips with a shovel. The court heard how an apprentice reported hearing a thud behind him before seeing Tkáčik unconscious underneath concrete, the shovel part-buried within arm’s reach. A section of concrete around 1.2m x 0.6m was missing from the crown of the tunnel.
Although workers were aware they should not go beneath the wet concrete until a strength test had been carried out by an engineer, there was confusion about where an exclusion zone began as it was unmarked, the prosecution argued. Following the accident, BFK revised it guidelines for marking exclusion zones and ropes were used to cordon off areas.
BFK admitted breaches of the Regulation 10(2) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, and was fined £300,000.
On 16 January 2015 Terrance ‘Ian’ Hughes was working on the tunnel between Bond Street and Paddington when he suffered severe leg injuries after being crushed by an excavator truck.
The prosecution told the court that Hughes had been outside of his own vehicle reaching for equipment on a wall when an excavator reversed into him and he was pulled under the caterpillar track. It said the excavator was missing a rear view camera and two mirrors, creating a blind spot for the driver.
Although a safety system was in place and there were daily safety briefings at the site, the prosecution claimed the JV had failed to secure an exclusion zone around the excavator, and to properly maintain plant at the site.
Just a week later on 22 January 2015 in the same stretch of tunnel, Alex Vizitiu suffered head, finger and hip injuries. He was hit by a high pressure mix of water and concrete while cleaning concrete lines.
The court heard how poor communication between teams at a pump house and in the tunnel had led to confusion over what steps were being taken during the cleaning procedure. The prosecution argued BFK had failed to properly enforce a safe system for cleaning the pipe, and it had also failed to enforce an exclusion zone around it.
For these two breaches of Section 22 (1a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, BFK was fined £600,000 for the incident involving Hughes and £165,000 for the incident involving Vizitiu.
“The omission to implement exclusion zones in a high hazard environment was a consistent failure in this case. Had simple measures such as these been taken, all three incidents could have been prevented, and Renè Tkáčik may not have died,” said HSE head of operations Annette Hall after the fines were given.
“We believe every person should be healthy and safe at work. Here, all three workers were taking part in one of the most important and challenging infrastructure projects of the decade. It was this joint venture’s duty to protect its dedicated and highly-skilled workforce. On these three occasions, BFK failed in its duty, with tragic consequences for Renè Tkáčik and his family.”
Tkáčik’s mother described how his death had plunged the family into a “never-ending nightmare”.
“The BFK joint venture has been sentenced today in the Southwark Crown Court in relation to three Health & Safety Regulatory Breaches arising from three incidents that occurred on the Crossrail project between 2014 and 2015,” said a spokesperson for BFK.
“BFK acknowledges and accepts the sentencing decision of the Court and is fully committed to achieving high standards of health and safety. It is with deep regret that these incidents ever occurred and BFK will continue to strive to achieve a working environment free from incident. We wish to convey our sincerest sympathies to all the families, friends and colleagues of the individuals involved.”
Crossrail programme director Simon Wright said: “We are aware of the Health and Safety Executive’s successful prosecution of Bam Ferrovial Kier Joint Venture.
“Everyone who works on Crossrail has been affected by the death of Rene Tkacik in March 2014. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Rene’s family, friends and colleagues.
“Safety has always been, and continues to be, the number one value for Crossrail and is critical to the successful delivery of the project.
“Crossrail has a good safety record and sets the most stringent contractor safety requirements in the industry. Our contractors know what we expect of them and what is needed to be done to achieve this. There is nothing so important on Crossrail that it cannot be done safely.”