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Contractor fined £20,000 after horrific drilling accident

NEWS

A KENT contractor has been fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,000 after a horrific accident in which an employee became entangled in a lorry-mounted rotating drill during groundworks.

Mark Cousins from Wickham Bishops, Essex, who worked for CET Group Ltd of Maidstone, was severely injured during drilling of a borehole at Ellenborough Table Tennis Club, Enfield on 29 March 2004.

Mr Cousins was pulled repeatedly through a 240mm gap between the mast and the auger, suffering a broken arm, leg and ribs, smashed right forearm and extensive bruising. He is still undergoing surgical procedures to reconstruct his arm and has not worked since the accident.

CET Group Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 when the case was heard at the City of London Magistrates Court in April.

The prosecution followed an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive. After the case HSE inspector Sarah Snelling said: 'Accidents such as the one suffered by Mark Cousins are eminently foreseeable when using such large, dangerous pieces of machinery without the proper safeguards being in place.

'The need for proper risk assessment and the provision of effective guards or other protection devices are well known within this industry.

'The guidance produced by the British Drilling Association (BDA) with the HSE was specifically designed to deal with such situations and makes it extremely clear how companies involved in such activities should go about complying with the relevant law.' In a statement the BDA said it shared the HSE's belief that horrific accidents of this type were unacceptable and preventable. It welcomed clarification and interpretation of UK law arising from this milestone case to eliminate what many had seen as a grey area.

'It remains the duty of not only each contractor but also their rig suppliers and clients to ensure that similar accidents cannot happen again, ' it said.

The BDA believed this was the first time a drilling contractor had been prosecuted with specific reference to failure to comply with Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) as amended in 2002.

'This regulation, in the context of rotary drilling equipment, requires that an employer should ensure that drill rigs are fitted with guards or protection devices to prevent entanglement or injury, ' a BDA spokesman said.

The drilling and piling industries were told by the HSE in 1999 that they had to comply with Regulation 11. In August 2000 the BDA published its Guidance notes for the protection of persons from rotating parts and ejected or falling material involved in the drilling process, advising contractors, manufacturers and clients of the drilling industry how to comply.

Since then many, but not all companies having fitted guards or protection devices to drill rigs.

'HSE's latest opinion that 'a fixed or moveable, interlocked guard would be a practicable method in all but a very few cases' is certain to cause consternation in the industry, especially for manufacturers and owners of drill rigs fitted with other protection devices such as trip wires, ' the BDA spokesman said.

'Industry opinion has been divided on how to comply with PUWER's Regulation 11, but this HSE statement will focus attention on physical guarding, which could have profound implications for methods of working, productivity, future rig design and operator training, ' he added.

The HSE has said it will seek 'to ensure compliance within a reasonable period' but the BDA said that in the event of an accident this was unlikely to be a defence for any individual contractor. It said the compliance period is liable to be measured in months, which would test the capacity of contractors, manufacturers and suppliers to design and retrofit any necessary improvements.

The BDA said that while PUWER applies to the users of equipment, ie contractors, other legislation involves suppliers and employers of drilling services. The whole ground engineering industry had a role to play in ensuring a level playing field is established where only compliant equipment is used by contractors and employed by clients.

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