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Thames Water fined after excavator reverses over engineer

Thames Water has been ordered to pay more than £361,000 in fines and costs after a worker was killed by a reversing excavator at a treatment works in Walthamstow.

Raymond Holmes, 59, of Rayleigh, sustained multiple crush injuries in the fatal incident at the utility company’s Coppermill Lane site on 30 April 2010, and died at the scene.

He was undertaking profiling work as part of a team cleaning a large sand filter bed, a process that involved the use of several items of large mobile plant machinery, including the excavator that struck him.

Thames Water was sentenced on 8 December after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified serious failings with the way the machines and workers were allowed to operate.

Southwark Crown Court heard that Holmes, an employee of Thames Water for more than 30 years, was using laser levelling equipment to measure the depth of the sand bed on foot.

He was struck by an excavator working close by after the driver reversed without seeing him or realising he was there.

HSE established that although Thames Water recognised the need for control measures to mitigate the risk of a collision between plant and workers, the company failed to implement sufficient measures on the day. Those working in the beds, including Holmes, had received no formal instruction or supervision to ensure they understood the safe systems of work. HSE also found that nobody was required to wear hi-visibility clothing, and that the excavator involved  was not equipped with effective rear view mirrors or any form of reversing aid or alarm.

The court was told that had the work been better planned and managed, with effective control measures in place, Mr Holmes’ death could have been avoided.

Thames Water Utilities was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay a further £61,229 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After sentencing, HSE inspector Nick Patience commented: “Raymond Holmes sadly lost his life because basic safety standards were not in place to protect him and other workers.

“Working alongside mobile plant can be extremely dangerous, and it is vital that effective control measures are in place at all times to ensure collisions are avoided.

“Although Thames Water had identified the potential risks, the company failed to ensure the necessary precautions and safe systems of work were in place, understood by all and monitored on that fateful day.”

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