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CULVERT COLLAPSE SURVIVED BY THREE WORKMEN

Structure stability not properly assessed and work planned

Principal contractor Enterprise (AOL) Ltd and contractor Topbond PLC have been fined a total of £160,000 after a man was seriously injured when a culvert collapsed on him in January 2012.

Maidstone Crown Court heard that Enterprise was engaged to replace an old, damaged, brick culvert with contractor Topbond undertaking the majority of the work.

HSE told the court that water was being pumped from the work area when three workers including 63-year-old Michael Skitt entered the area between two culverts in order to clear a channel for the remaining water to flow toward the pump head.

Shortly after they entered the area, the old brick culvert collapsed. One man jumped clear, another was hit but managed to release himself, but Michael Skitt was trapped and suffered multiple injuries. He spent 26 days in hospital and has had to give up full-time work and walks with a stick.

Implications of plan change not followed through

HSE said the stability of the structure was not assessed adequately, nor sufficient planning undertaken to ensure adequate control measures were in place.

The culvert was to be totally demolished but when this plan changed the implications of uncovering half of the damaged culvert and therefore loading it unevenly and undermining the structure were not managed.

The court heard the defendants were made aware of the potential of collapse several times by the original designers/engineers.

  • Enterprise (AOL) Ltd of Oxford admitted breaches of Sections 22 (1) and 28 (1) of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007. They were fined a total of £90,000 and ordered to pay an additional £22,876 costs.
  • Topbond PLC of Sittingbourne, Kent admitted breaches of Sections 13 (1) and 28 (1) of the same regulations. They were also ordered to pay £22,876.60 costs and were fined £70,000.

After the case, HSE inspector Nicola Wellard said:

“This is a sad case that has changed at least one man’s life for ever. The culvert was being replaced because it had been damaged previously.

Just this one piece of information should have been enough to ensure both contractors assessed the stability of the culvert throughout the work and took appropriate measures to ensure people were protected from the risk of collapse.

These risks are well-known and the fact that the two other men escaped without serious injury was just pure luck, this could easily have been a multiple fatality.”

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