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Main contractors take rap for piling platform failure


JOINT VENTURE main contractor Morgan Vinci was fined £30,000 last month for breaches of health and safety legislation that led to a piling rig toppling on to the London-Tilbury-Southend railway in May last year.

The incident occurred close to the Aveley viaduct near Thurrock during construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Contract 310 across the Essex marshes where Morgan Est and Vinci Construction Grands Projets (VCGP) were working in joint venture.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive found the accident was caused by the main contractors failing to reinstate the piling platform adequately after excavating into it to remove an obstruction.

An HSE statement says: 'At Aveley, the ground is very marshy; a critical geotextile membrane was relied upon to prevent the [working platform] stone being displaced into the peat.

'To remove an obstruction the construction companies dug a trench in the piling platform, which damaged the critical geotextile membrane.

'The trench was then poorly backfilled.

When the rig crossed the trench the ground settled under one side causing the piling rig to overturn across the live railway lines, bringing down a 25,000V overhead catenary.'

Although no one was injured, a passenger train had passed two minutes earlier. The railway line was closed for three days.

Morgan Est and VCGP were prosecuted separately and both pleaded guilty to a breach of duty under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, in that they failed to ensure that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their safety.

Both companies were fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £2,514 costs. The maximum penalty in a Magistrates' Court for an offence under Section 3(1) is £20,000.

The court said it took into account the fact that the companies had already paid a substantial amount to infrastructure owner Network Rail for the three day closure of the line, and paid the owner of the piling rig for its repair.

HSE's Construction Division inspector John Underwood, who led the investigation, said:

'This prosecution results from an incident that could have caused a serious train crash.

'Senior construction managers knew how critical the piling platform was and expected junior managers to tell the engineering department about the need for repairs.'

The HSE investigation found that junior site managers were not aware of this procedure and did not understand how critical the design was.

'Better communications, including explanation of safety critical parts of the job and better monitoring of the work would have prevented this incident, ' the HSE said.

lThe cause of the accident is one of the issues addressed by the Federation of Piling Specialists in its best practice guide for the construction and maintenance of piling platforms, published this month. Its launch comes as FPS members are stepping up a campaign which will see contractors refusing to undertake piling works unless the client has a working platform certificate.

The new report, Working platforms for tracked plant, prepared by BRE on behalf of the FPS, is available to Ground Engineering readers at a special price of £30 post-free (normal price £35 plus p&p).Tel 01344 404 407 quoting reference BR470 and 'Ground Engineering offer'

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