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HSE PROSECUTE ENVIRONENT AGENCY OVER CRANE DEATH

Operator drowned in cab after crawler crane fell into watercourse

The Environment Agency (EA) has been ordered to pay more than £220,000 in fines and costs after a crane operator drowned whilst dredging an icy Cambridgeshire watercourse  on 8th December 2010

Simon Wenn, aged 43 was working with a colleague on the maintenance of the Counter Drain at Mepal and was operating a crawler crane rigged as a dragline to dredge sediment from the bed of the watercourse between the A142 bridge and Welches Dam.

The water was frozen and the river bank on which the crane was positioned was frosty and wet. Timber tracking mats were laid to provide better grip and stability for the work to be carried out, and to protect the grassy bank from damage.

Cambridge Crown Court heard (14 December) Mr Wenn was repositioning one of the tracking mats by using the crane to move the mat from behind and swing to a position in front of him. However, as the mat rotated through the water the crane tipped into the watercourse leaving Mr Wenn was trapped in the cab of the crane.

Emergency services were called and tried to free him, but despite their best efforts both he and the machine continued to sink. He drowned as freezing water filled the cab.

No prior experience of using a crawler crane for lifting operations

HSE investigators found the crane was fitted with a 19m boom which exceeded the manufacturer specifications. The maximum length of boom the crane should be fitted with was 16m when used as a dragline.

The EA assessment of the technical requirements and impact of the cold weather was inadequate. The system of work for lifting and positioning the tracking mats was unsafe and there was a lack of planning and competent site supervision.

Mr Wenn was trained as a dragline operator and had no prior experience of using a crawler crane for lifting operations. When he moved the mats he dragged them through the water rather than lifting them clear.

The death followed a similar incident in Norfolk in 2008 involving a smaller tracked machine operated by EA and failed to act on the findings of its own internal investigation into the earlier incident.

Environment Agency failed to heed previous warnings

The Environment Agency was fined £200,000 with costs of £28,548 after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The death followed a similar incident in Norfolk in 2008 involving a smaller tracked machine operated by EA and failed to act on the findings of its own internal investigation into the earlier incident.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Faulkner said:

“Simon Wenn’s tragic death could have been prevented had more thought and rigour been given to planning the dredging work, in order to minimise the risk arising from the use of the dragline to maintain this watercourse.

The Environment Agency failed to heed warnings and learn lessons from a previous non-fatal, incident where there were similar failures to manage risk.

Our investigations of incidents are not just there to assign responsibility. They are an important source of information to help develop effective policies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of workers. Employers should act upon the findings of such investigations and implement procedures to reduce risks.”

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