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SITE FOREMAN PROSECUTED AFTER EXCAVATION DEATH

Supervisor failed to act despite proper training in trench work safety

A site foreman has been prosecuted after a labourer in his team died when an excavation collapsed whilst he worked for Cameron and Stevenson (Scotland) Ltd (now in liquidation) in April 2008.

Graeme Scott was was walking near the edge a 3m deep sewer trench on the site in Glasgow when the ground collapsed beneath him and he fell into the trench.  As he struggled to make his way out a further part of the trench wall collapsed trapping him.

Frantic attempts were made to release him which continued when the emergency services arrived. However, when Mr Scott was recovered there were no signs of life and he was pronounced dead at the scene. A post mortem examination established that he died of chest injury and probable suffocation.

HSE investigators established that:

  • there was no protection at the edge of the trench;
  • the sides of the trench had not been supported to make them safe; and
  • trench boxes were available on site but they had not been used.

The HSE concluded that the foreman William Parry had put himself and his colleagues at risk by not using the safety measures his employers had instructed him to use.

Foreman had duty to take care for safety of his team 

Mr Parry, 33, of Fife, pleaded guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court to breaching Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, and was fined £240.

After the case, HSE inspector Graeme McMinn said:

“If Mr Parry had taken the simple precautions he had been instructed to take, then Graeme Scott would be alive today.

No measures were taken to prevent the trench collapsing or to stop workers falling in to the trench despite appropriate equipment being readily available on site.

Mr Parry was working as the foreman and was properly trained in the right way to do trench work. The team had been told at the beginning of the job to use trench boxes to protect themselves.

Although the team’s employers should have supervised them more closely, as foreman Mr Parry had a duty to take reasonable care of the safety of his team.”

Comment

The financial penalty imposed in this case is minimal and probably reflects the means of the defendant. The real cost is the tragic loss of life.

The wider ‘penalty’ for defendants in such cases is the ongoing burden of having contributed to the death of a colleague, the stress of the investigation and legal proceedings and the effects of having a criminal record. 

The case highlights the heavy responsibility borne by supervisors and need to put safety first.

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