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HSE ACT ON TRENCH DANGER CONCERNS

Contractor prosecuted over unsupported deep excavation 

Basi Construction Limited has been fined for unsafe excavation work at a building site in Rochester, Kent in 2012.

Southern Water and Medway Council witnessed work underway in a 3m deep excavation into soft clay that was totally unsupported. Two plywood sheets and a single strut had been added when they returned a day later there was still a significant risk.

HSE investigated and prosecuted the company for failing to properly plan the excavation, and for endangering workers by leaving unsupported sidewalls that were liable to collapse.

Magistrates were told that although there was no excavation collapse and no injuries, workers could have been killed had the clay sidewalls given way. The excavation was made to connect a single new-build home to an existing sewer. 

Medway Council highways visited in response to complaints about work in the footpath outside the site. The council notified HSE and described in detail what they had seen, including someone climbing from the excavation. Tools and equipment could also be seen at the bottom.

The excavation had been backfilled by the time a HSE inspector arrived on site, but the witness evidence proved damning. 

Worker would have died before being rescued

Basi Construction Limited, of Rochester, was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £8,797 in costs for a single breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 Regulation 13(2) which requires that the contractor to plan, manage and monitor construction work so that it is carried out without risks to health and safety.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Melvyn Stancliffe said:

“It was pure good luck that the excavation didn’t collapse, and had it done so anyone working at the bottom would have more than likely been killed before they could be rescued.

Before any excavation begins contractors must ask themselves: ‘What will the consequences be if this fails? And what precautions do I therefore need to put in place to prevent that from happening?’

Sidewalls may look solid, but an unsupported wall will always collapse, and you need to work on the basis that it could give way in the next few seconds, not tomorrow or next week.

Proper planning is essential, as is the need to ensure that only competent personnel undertake excavation work, and that all work is closely supervised. Despite this particular excavation being backfilled when HSE arrived to inspect it, we were satisfied that Basi Construction failed in this regard, and compromised safety as a result.”

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