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CLIENT ACCOUNTABLE FOR CONTRACTOR COMPETENCE

Developers and contractor prosecuted over excavation collapse fatality 

HMB Services Ltd and company director Vijay Patel have been prosecuted alongside developers Mukesh Shah and Kiran Shah after a workman died in a trench collapse on a London property conversion in September 2010.

Woolwich Crown Court heard (11 October) that a large trench had been excavated approximately 7m long, 2m wide and almost 3m deep. The trench was being extended at one end at a 90-degree angle to form an L-shape.

An excavtor was “shaping the extension” whilst the deceased workman Mr Ye was working in the deeper existing section when the inside corner of the L-shape caved in. He died at the scene despite frantic efforts to dig him out.

HSE investigators found the trench was supported with inadequate sheets of plywood and timber props. The collapse could have been prevented by more substantial supports or by battering of the excavation sides to a dsafe angle of repose.

HSE told the court of failings by principal contractor HMB Services Ltd and Vijay Patel and clients Mukesh and Kiran Shah, who “should have ensured their principal contractor was competent to carry out the project in a safe, properly planned manner”.

Clients will be jailed if necessary payments not made

Mukesh Shah and Kiran Shah, of the Optima Business Park, Pindar Road, Hoddesdon, Herts, were each found guilty of two separate breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. Mukesh was fined £40,000 with costs of £34,750. Kiran was fined £25,000 and was also ordered to pay £34,750 in costs.

The brothers were told they would be jailed if they failed to make the necessary payments.

Vijay Patel, of Valley Walk, Croxley Green, Herts, was ordered to undertake 270 hours of community work after pleading guilty to a single CDM Regulations breach. The court ruled he had no means to pay a fine or contribute towards costs. HMB Services Ltd is dissolved.

After sentencing HSE Principal Inspector Russell Adfield said:

“Mukesh and Kiran Shah were having this conversion undertaken as part of a business venture and they were therefore ‘clients’ in this project. A client has a very major influence over how a construction project is run as they have responsibility for appointing competent advisors – principal contractors – and ensuring that arrangements are in place for carrying out the project safely.

The clients in this case failed on all fronts. They had no advisors to help them understand what was required of them, the principal contractor they appointed was not competent to manage this work safely and there were no formal arrangements in place to ensure the safety of those workers on site.

It appeared neither the clients nor principal contractor had any understanding of the very real risks on that site – or how to ensure those risks were controlled.”

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