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Civils firms fined £2M after trench collapse

Health and safety

Kier MG and two of its subcontractors have been fined a total of more than £2M after a worker’s leg was broken in six places when a trench which he was working in collapsed.

The fines were imposed yesterday at Lincoln Crown Court, which heard that Vincent Talbot, 47, from Lincoln, suffered serious leg injuries when his leg was crushed in the incident at Fleet Street, Holbeach, Lincolnshire on 9 March, 2012.

He was trapped in the trench for 15 minutes before being extracted by the fire and rescue service and then airlifted to hospital. He was left with a permanently damaged right ankle which points 10º off line. He was off work for more than a year and says he will never to work in a trench again.

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigators found insufficient measures were taken to protect those working in trench, and a series of safety errors had led to the collapse.

Before the accident, principal contractor, Kier MG Ltd, had been appointed by Lincolnshire County Council to install new storm drains.

Kier MG sub-contracted the installation work to John Henry & Sons Civil Engineers, which then further sub-contracted the work to Lawless Civils. Talbot was a self- employed contractor hired by Lawless Civils. John Henry & Sons had not told Kier of the appointment of Lawless Civils. Lawless was an approved Kier MG contractor but had not been not approved for this type of specialist excavation work. Lawless appointed a supervisor who had never supervised work, and lacked the relevant training and qualifications to do so.

After the accident, the HSE said that John Henry & Sons backdated the method statement to give the impression that it was signed by the workers prior to the trench collapsing.

A 3m long trench box shielded workers but the pipes being laid in the trench were 6m long, meaning workers weren’t protected over the whole length of the pipe. Other trench support systems such as trench sheeting were not used, and the unsupported trench had water leaking into it. The trench had been left open overnight and concrete was being used to bed the pipes in at the bottom of the trench, instead of pea gravel as specified by the client.

Water mixed with the concrete, making the pipe levelling process extremely difficult as the level of the pipe bed had to be continuously adjusted. When Vince Talbot was attempting to level a pipe section for a second time, the sides of the trench collapsed and trapped him.

Bedfordshire-based Kier MG, formerly known as May Gurney, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. It was fined £1.M and ordered to pay £23,327.83.

Cambridge-based John Henry & Sons Civil Engineers denied the charge but was found guilty, of breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £550,000 and ordered to pay £166,217.86.

Lawless Civils Ltd of Lincoln, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It fined £40,500 and ordered to pay £53,346.59.

“This incident was foreseeable and avoidable and Mr Talbot’s injuries were the result of multiple failings by the duty holders, from the planning stage through to the execution of the project, resulting in the inevitable collapse of an unsupported trench. Sufficient trench support systems were not provided,” said HSE inspector Martin Waring.

“Even while the excavation phase had begun, a catalogue of errors and omissions led to the injuries of Vincent Talbot. It is inevitable that at some time an unsupported trench will collapse, for this reason safe systems of work, should be in place in order to protect persons who work in trenches. We could easily have been dealing with a fatal incident.”

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