• Robert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors Part 5: construction


Trench collapse death

Cooper Services Ltd had been employed by a domestic client to connect new bungalows to mains drainage, gas and water supplies. Callum Osborne, an employee of the company, was digging a drainage trench. The trench collapsed and buried him, causing fatal injuries.The trench was excavated in a narrow driveway, about three metres wide. Material excavated from the trench was piled up on each side of the trench, which had no means of support to prevent collapse and no barriers or edge protection to prevent falls into the trench.

Serious burn injuries from skip fireball

A young employee of David Gordon Stead, the director of a construction company, was told to stand on top of a skip and pour a drum of flammable thinners onto burning waste to help it burn. The thinners ignited and the resulting fireball threw the worker form the skip. He suffered serious burn injuries to his arms and legs. Stead had not ensured that the burning of the waste material was carried out in a safe or appropriate manner. He failed to administer first aid to the injured worker and did not send him to hospital. He also failed to report the incident to the HSE.

Oxford Street hoarding collapse: passers-by seriously injured

In March 2012 a hoarding which weighed one tonne and was 3.6 metres high was erected by Oracle Interiors Ltd, a shopfitting company, to fence off a shop which was being refurbished.The hoarding was held in place by a single timber brace. It was inherently weak and could not withstand gusts of wind or contact with passers-by.When the hoarding collapsed. 20 people were trapped. Four were injured, of whom three suffered serious injuries.

Pedestrian injured by 380 kg of falling equipment

In September 2008 a woman was waiting for a bus in York Road, London. She was struck by a piece of machinery which was being lifted to the fifth floor of an office block. She suffered serious multiple injuries which included fractures and cuts. These injuries have affected her studies and work. The office block was being refurbished by Concentra Ltd. Instead of using traditional scaffolding, the company was using a mast climber which raised and lowered workers on the outside of the building. A crane and lifting slings were used to lift an air handling unit which weighed 380 kg. The crane was not correctly fitted. During the lift, the unit struck a mast climber and was knocked out of its sling. It fell from height and struck the woman.

Concrete collapse: seven workers injured

In September 2007, during the construction of an atrium at Liverpool John Moores University, workers were pumping concrete onto the third floor of the building. The supporting scaffolding holding up the concrete suddenly collapsed. Seven workers suffered injuries including cement burns and fractures.Both Wates Construction Ltd – principal contractor for the project – and MPB Structures Ltd, the concrete subcontractor, allowed the supporting scaffolding to be erected from a preliminary design which was clearly marked as for discussion and pricing purposes only.The preliminary design did not include all necessary information for the correct or safe erection of the scaffolding. Neither company had checked the scaffolding before allowing the concrete to be poured.

Trench collapse: worker suffers multiple fractures

In July 2010 Grzegorz Waluszkowski was helping to lay a drainage pipe at a holiday park in Dawlish. He was working in a two-metre deep trench, the walls of which were propped up with plywood and metal plate with a piece of softwood between the sides of the trench. The wall of the trench caved in and buried Waluszkowski. An excavator had to be used to rescue him. He suffered multiple fractures of his skull, jaw and cheekbones. The HSE investigation found that Main Gate Leisure Ltd had failed to adequately plan the work or put necessary safety measures in place. The HSE found that the trench was clearly inadequately supported and the plywood and metal plate were no more than a rudimentary attempt to support the trench walls. Normally trench boxes would be used as shields whenever workers need to briefly enter a trench. These boxes can be rented from hire companies.

Crane collapse: worker and member of the public killed

In September 2006 sections of a tower crane on a housing development in Battersea separated when 24 bolts failed from metal fatigue. The crane operator was killed when he fell from the crane. A member of the public was killed when the crane fell onto him. Falcon Crane Hire Ltd had not investigated a previous similar incident when the bolts failed and had to be replaced. The company had an inadequate system to manage the inspection and maintenance of its fleet of cranes. Its process to investigate the underlying cause of components’ failings was also inadequate. The bolts were a safety-critical part of the crane. Their previous failure had been an exceptional and significant occurrence which should have been recognised by the company.

Corporate manslaughter

Peter Mawson, the owner of Peter Mawson Ltd, a building and joining company, was sentenced in February 2015 for health and safety breaches. The company was fined for corporate manslaughter.

In October 2011 Jason Pennington, an employee of the company, was working on a roof at a farm. He fell 7 metres through a skylight onto a concrete floor and suffered fatal injuries. In December 2014 the company and Mawson pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter and to health and safety offences. It was admitted by the company and Peter Mawson that they had failed to utilise a safe system of work and failed to use the proper safety equipment to ensure the safety of the workers.

Mawson was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, 22 hours unpaid work, a publicity order to be posted in the company’s website and a half-page statement in the local newspaper, plus £31,500 costs.

The company was fined £200,000 for corporate manslaughter plus £30,000 under section 2, HSWA, for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees.

Excavator crushing death

In November 2012 Christopher Hartley, an employee of William George Sinclair Reid t/a E&M Engineering Services, was working on a pier in Hoy, Orkney. He was unloading metal panels from a van, using an excavator. Hartley was struck by the moving excavator and crushed between the machine and a fixed cabinet at the end of the pier. He suffered fatal crush injuries. Although Reid had carried out a risk assessment, he had not identified mechanical lifting as a hazard and the risks associated with using an excavator. Reasonable precautions had not been taken to reduce the risk of a person being struck by a moving load or excavator. Reid should have planned and controlled the task to ensure that a strictly-enforced exclusion zone was set up during all excavator manoeuvring and lifting operations, and that all personnel involved were wearing appropriate hi-vis clothing, particularly since the work was being undertaken in the dark.

Death fall

In December 2011 Lance Davies fell seven metres to his death through a roof light at industrial premises in Crumlin, South Wales. Work at height on the roof of the premises had not been properly planned, managed or monitored. There were inadequate control measures in place to prevent a fall through the roof lights.

Bitumen burns

In June 2013 John Terrell was felting a flat roof. He was using bitumen which he melted at ground level before lifting it up a ladder. The ladder slipped and a bucket of hot bitumen fell on a woman and her grandchild. They suffered extensive burns which needed extensive hospital treatment. The ladder had not been secured to prevent slipping. It was in poor condition with missing or badly worn rubber feet. Insufficient measures had been taken to prevent the slip and it had been a wholly unnecessary incident. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented after the case that members of the public must be kept out of harm’s way when dangerous materials are being used. The ladder aside, the incident could have been avoided if the victims had been told to stay at a safe distance.

Dumper truck death

In February 2012 Geoffrey Crow was driving a dumper truck at a construction site in Bedfordshire. The truck fell into a deep and unguarded excavation. It overturned and fell on him, causing fatal injuries. There were no measures in place to prevent people or vehicles falling into the excavation, which was up to 6.5 metres deep. None of the workers on the site were used to operating large plant machinery. The seatbelt on Crow’s machine was not operational.

Death fall

In May 2012 Kevin Brookes, an employee of Midlands Solar Solutions Ltd, was installing solar panels on a roof. He attempted to retrieve a drill which had started to slide towards the edge of the roof. He slipped and fell seven metres to the ground, suffering fatal injuries. Alumet Renewable Technologies Ltd was the principal contractor for the project. It had failed to put an adequate health and safety plan in place. The measures outlined in its plan were not sufficient to protect the workers. The measures which were in place had not been followed. The roof’s edge protection did not meet nationally agreed standards and employees of Rugby Scaffolding Services Ltd had not been properly trained or supervised. There were unsuitable provisions in place to prevent people falling through skylights.

Amputated leg in dumper truck incident

In June 2005 Michael O’Donovan was working on Arsenal football club’s Ashburton Grove stadium. He was kneeling to clean steel shuttering used to form reinforced structures and pillars. He was run over by a dumper truck. He suffered severe leg injuries and a fractured pelvis. The HSE investigation showed that Sir Robert McAlpine Limited, Skanska Utilities Limited and Maylim Limited had failed to ensure the proper segregation of vehicles and pedestrians on the site.

A spokesperson for the HSE commented after the case that traffic needs to be managed effectively on all construction sites. If proper controls had been in place, this appalling incident would never have happened. O’Donovan suffered a serious injury and his life has been changed for ever.

Death from overturned crane

In March 2007 Richard Mark Thornton was helping to construct a new floor on a warehouse at Wavertree Business Park in Liverpool. A 50-tonne crane toppled over as it was moving a steel column. Thornton was struck by the column and suffered fatal injuries. The crane was used to lift the column, which weighed six tonnes, when it was almost 18 metres away. This was well outside its safe lifting capacity. The crane had not been properly maintained and its external alarm could not be heard by employees working nearby. Its override switches were faulty. This included the switch which prevented the crane lifting loads beyond its capacity.

In 2006/7 79 workers in the construction industry were killed at work. There were 4500 injuries.

Trench collapse: crushing death

In June 2012 William Ryan Evans was contracted to construct a drainage field, comprising infiltration pipes laid at the bottom of deep trenches, at a farm in Pembrokeshire. He employed two workers and a subcontractor to carry out the work. Hywel Glyndwr Richards, one of the employees, entered a deep trench. It collapsed and buried him, causing fatal injuries. The work had not been appropriately planned and the risk assessment was neither suitable nor sufficient. Workers had not been properly trained and suitable equipment to prevent a collapse had not been provided.

An HSE inspector commented after the case that work in excavations needs to be properly planned, managed and monitored to ensure that no-one enters an excavation more than 1.2 metres deep without adequate controls in place to prevent a collapse.

Skip lorry death

In July 2008 David Vickers, an employee of Adis Scaffolding Ltd, was tipping a skip at the company’s site in Derbyshire. He left the cab of the lorry which he was driving, to deploy the stabilising rear outriggers. The lorry overturned and crushed him, causing fatal injuries. The skip had been mis-hooked. This meant that it broke free and swung out, causing the vehicle to tip over. There was no safe system of work for the skip operation. No guidance had been given in relation to the handling of mis-hooks and other foreseeable problems. There had been inadequate training and instruction. Skip lorry controls were not marked and the risk assessment for loading and unloading skips was inadequate.

Leg amputation in slurry mixer

In September 2012 Colin Boon, a contractor, was in charge of a gang of workers who were sealing a pavement in Stoke-on-Trent. A worker slipped as he climbed down from a flatbed lorry which was next to the mixer. His left leg fell through the unguarded opening of the mixer. The moving paddles in the mixer severely injured his lower left leg and resulted in amputation below the knee. He suffers from continuing mobility problems. The guard over the rotating paddles in the mixer had been removed on the day before the incident. Boon was aware that the guard had been removed but took no action to prevent use of the machine.

Scaffolding death fall

In December 2010 Tony Causby, an employee of S&S Scaffolding Ltd, was dismantling scaffolding on the roof of a warehouse in Skelmersdale. He stepped onto a skylight and fell 13 metres, suffering fatal injuries. There were 80 fragile skylights on the roof. Each measured one by two metres. The company had failed to arrange for covers to be placed on the skylights to prevent workers falling through.


Gas cylinder death

In November 2008 Adam Johnston, a plumber, was working on a construction project in Welwyn Garden City. He was struck by one of 66 argonite gas cylinders which flew at high speeds after one toppled over and discharged high-pressure gas. Johnston suffered multiple fatal injuries. Several other workers were injured. One or more of the cylinders was destabilised. It appears to have fallen over and released an uncontrolled jet of liquefied argon gas under high pressure. A chain reaction developed rapidly and caused a barrage of cylinders which continued until all 66 cylinders had been discharged. The three companies involved in the project had failed to recognise the significant risks involved in the project or to carry out an adequate risk assessment. The principal contractor and the main contractors failed to co-ordinate scheduled work activities or to co-operate meaningfully in light of the risks. There had been inadequate training and supervision.

Fall from height death

Alan Young, an employee of Barnet Homes Ltd, was working alone at a communal boiler house in one of the company’s housing estates. He was using a mobile tower scaffold and a ladder to repair a leak. His body was found at the foot of the scaffold. There were no witnesses to the incident. The deceased had suffered severe head injuries. The scaffold had not been properly erected, had missing guard rails and no wheel brakes. The ladder had not been secured. The company had failed to prepare a proper risk assessment. The deceased had unrestricted access to a ladder and a mobile tower scaffold and had not been given proper training. The company did not have adequate arrangements for the control of maintenance work. This had been a cause of the fatality.

Death of roofer

In June 2009 Robert Jozwiak was working on the roof of a disused factory in Leicester. The roof gave way and Jozwiak fell six metres to the concrete floor below. He suffered fatal injuries. Jozwiak had been instructed by Musa Suleman to carry out the work.

The Crown Court judge is reported to have commented that Jozwiak’s death had been a terrible tragedy which could have been prevented. There were clear lessons to be learned. He urged anyone working on buildings to treat health and safety as their top priority in order to prevent injury or death. A sposkesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented that the roof was made of corrugated asbestos sheets. The work required careful planning and consideration of the risks involved. Safe routes and protective equipment should have been in place to allow Jozwiak to get to work areas without injury, and measures to prevent or mitigate falls should have been in position.

Death fall

In August 2008 Peter Halligan, an employee of Galt Civil Engineering Ltd, was working at a farm in Macclesfield. He and a colleague were constructing brick manhole chambers above an empty water storage tank. Halligan fell 15 metres into the tank and suffered fatal injuries. Peter Stuart, the director with day-to-day responsibility for running the company, had seen both men working over exposed openings in the tank. He took no action to put safety measures in place. Neither man had been given sufficient information or a risk assessment for the work. They had not been given any advice about working above the storage tank by their employer.

Fall death

In January 2012 Ivars Bahmanis, a Lithuanian national, was carrying out refurbishment work, involving the installation of metal brackets for new roof joists at the former canal works in Blackburn. He fell eight metres from a wall and suffered fatal injuries. No safety measures were in place. The defendants, Tameem Shafi and Mohammed Shafi Karbhari, had failed to plan the work at height or to employ competent contractors.They had deliberately chosen to save money and were well aware that work was being carried out in an unsafe manner using unskilled workers.

An HSE inspector commented after the case that the defendants had tried to save money by asking unskilled works to carry out hazardous work activities around the building. As a result, the deceased had died needlessly in a horrifying incident which could and should have been prevented. There had been a previous incident on the site where a worker fell from height and broke his leg. This was never reported to the HSE.

Demolition death

In November James Stacey was working on the demolition of the former Cadburys factory near Bristol. He drove a mini digger out of a fourth floor opening. The opening was being used as a drop zone to drop large fibreglass tanks to the ground. The opening was not properly protected to prevent the digger falling from the building. The digger fell to the

An HSE inspector is reported to have commented after the case that the failings demonstrated the need for effective communication and understanding in the health care environment and the need to appropriately manage the risks to patients with special requirements.

Roof fall death

Barry Tyson, a self-employed bricklayer, was refurbishing the roof of a school in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, in August 2011.He fell through a fragile roof-light to the ground two metres below and suffered fatal head injuries. Watershed Roofing Ltd had prepared a construction phase plan. This stated that the plastic domes over all roof-lights should be removed, and apertures boarded over, before work started. It was found that the domes could not easily be removed and it was decided that work could progress without covering the apertures..

Death of worker from crushing

In October 2009 Daniel Hurley was employed as a groundworker by a company subcontracted by Morris & Spottiswood Ltd to work on a construction site in Glasgow. He was using a machine to compact hardcore next to area where a steel frame was being erected. The frame fell onto Hurley, causing fatal injuries. The subsequent HSE investigation found serious safety failings in the way in which the company had managed the project. The anchor bolts of the steelwork were so poorly installed that they could be moved by hand. They had not been properly checked. The company had failed to review the risk assessments and method statements submitted by the subcontractor for the work, and had failed to establish and maintain an exclusion zone around the steelwork while erection was being carried out.

Life-threatening injuries

In August 2007 Shah Nawaz Pola was fined and imprisoned following an incident in which a worker suffered life-threatening injuries on a construction site.

Pola employed a number of migrant Slovakian workers to build an extension to a house in Bradford. He paid them each £30 a day in cash. In November 2005 Dusan Dudi, one of the workers, fell from inadequately constructed scaffolding when the wall which he was demolishing collapsed on him. A concrete lintel struck him on the head. He suffered injuries which it was thought would be fatal. Although Dudi’s life support machine was switched off in hospital, he survived. He was left with severe disabilities and needs constant care. It is thought that he will never work again. He is ineligible for benefits in the United Kingdom and in Slovakia. Pola had no experience of running a construction site. When he was told by an HSE inspector what needed to be done to protect the safety of workers, he replied that he did not care. Pola had made no concessions at all to health and safety. He had not written a risk assessment nor method statements. He had failed to provide welfare facilities, proper scaffolding, adequate fall guards or personal protective equipment for his workforce. A number of contractors had left the site because safety standards were so poor. Pola denied being in charge of the site and refused to accept responsibility for the incident.

Construction site drowning

In January 2015 an 83-year old man walked onto a construction site operated by Sandford Park Ltd. The site was closed for the holidays. The man fell into a flooded excavation site and died from drowning. The company had failed to install an appropriate level of fencing around the site to prevent members of the public, including vulnerable adults and children, from accessing the site.

Demolition: serious crush injuries

In October 2015 an employee of S Evans and Sons Ltd, a demolition company, was injured when the managing director was operating machinery to stack girders, each of which weighed 10 tonnes. A girder dropped onto the worker’s arms, causing amputation of his left arm and right hand. The company had failed to apply appropriate measures, including ensuring that the correct equipment was used. Samuel Evans, the company’s managing director, was directly involved in the incident and was personally responsible for the choice of equipment and the way in which the work was carried out.

Death fall

An employee of A-Lift Crane Hire Ltd, which had been contracted by Premier Roofing Systems Ltd to supply a crane to lift roofing sheets onto a factory roof, was killed in a fall. In August 2013, as the sheets were being lifted, the worker fell through an unprotected skylight. Preventative measures to allow workers to work safely on the roof had not been put in place.

Crossrail: death of worker

In March 2014 Rene Tkacik, from Slovakia, was working on a team enlarging the Crossrail tunnel by removing tings of the pilot tunnel and spraying walls with wet concrete. A section of the roof collapsed and Tkacik was crushed to death by wet concrete, In January 2015 Ian Hughes was collecting equipment from inside a tunnel when he was struck by a reversing excavator. He suffered serious injuries. Also in January 2015 Alex Vizitiu, who was part of a team spraying liquid concrete, was cleaning pipes which supplied the concrete. One of the pipes was disconnected and he was struck with pressurized water and concrete debris. He suffered serious injuries.There had been a failure to provide a safe system of work, a failure to properly maintain the excavator which reversed into Hughes, and a failure to enforce exclusion zones.

Trench collapse death

In April 2010 James Sim, a subcontractor working on behalf of Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions Ltd, was laying ducting for new cable for an offshore wind farm off the coast of Heysham, Lancashire. He was working in a trench which was 2.4 metres deep, with no shoring. He was killed when the trench collapsed on him.The company had failed to adequately risk assess the work or control the way in which it took place.

Death from electrocution

In June 2010 Bradley Watts, 21-year old subcontractor, was lagging pipes in the loft space of Natures Way Foods’ premises in Chichester. He came into contact with a 240 volt live electrical cable and was killed. The live cable was part of an old system which had been removed by the company in 2008. It was not identified in any way. Its existence and nature was not known to the company. The company had plenty of opportunity to deal with redundant cables. It had always assumed that they were not live. If the old cabling had been removed in a systematic and controlled way, or if subsequent checks of the loft space had identified examples of poor practice, the death of Watts could have been avoided.

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