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TRENCH COLLAPSE COSTS MAJOR COMPANIES £2M PLUS

Method statement backdated by contractor post incident

Three construction firms have been fined a total of over £2,000,000 after an excavation collapsed on a workman in March 2012. Vincent Talbot, aged 47, from Lincoln, suffered serious leg injuries when his leg was crushed in the incident in Holbeach, Lincolnshire.

Mr Talbot was trapped in the trench for 15 minutes before being rescued by the emergency service. His right ankle has been left permanently damaged, pointing 10 degrees off-line. He was off work for more than a year and has vowed “never to work in a trench again”.

HSE investigators found insufficient measures were taken to protect those working in trench, and a series of safety errors had led to the collapse.

Principal Contractor (PC), Kier MG Ltd, was appointed by Lincolnshire County Council to install new storm drains and engaged John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) Ltd who (unknown to the PC) further contracted the work to Lawless Civils Ltd. Mr Talbot was a self-employed contractor hired by Lawless Civils Ltd.

Lawless were approved contractors of Kier MG but not approved for this type of specialist excavation work.  Lawless appointed a supervisor who had never supervised work and lacked the relevant training and qualifications.

Trench boxes 3m short of requirement

Following the accident John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) Ltd “backdated” the method statement to give the impression that it was signed by the workers prior to the trench collapsing.

A three-metre long trench box shielded workers but the pipes being laid in the trench were six metres long and hence protection did not cover the full the length of the pipe being laid. In addition, water was entering the unsupported trench.

The excavation was left open overnight and concrete was being used to bed the pipes at the bottom of the trench, instead of pea gravel as specified by the client.

Water mixed with the concrete, making the pipe levelling process extremely difficult as the level of the pipe bed had to be continuously adjusted. When Vince Talbot was attempting to level a pipe section for a second time, the sides of the trench collapsed and trapped him.

  • Kier MG Ltd (formerly known as May Gurney Ltd) – of Sandy, Bedfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. They were fined £1.5 million and ordered to pay £23,327.83.
  • John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) Ltd – of Cambridge denied the charge but was found guilty, after a trial of breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc.  Act 1974. They were fined £550,000 and ordered to pay £166,217.86.
  • Lawless Civils Ltd – of Lincoln, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. They were fined £40,500 and ordered to pay £53,346.59.

HSE inspector Martin Waring said:

“This incident was foreseeable and avoidable and Mr Talbot’s injuries were the result of multiple failings by the duty holders, from the planning stage through to the execution of the project, resulting in the inevitable collapse of an unsupported trench. Sufficient trench support systems were not provided.

Even while the excavation phase had begun, a catalogue of errors and omissions led to the injuries of Vincent Talbot. It is inevitable that at some time an unsupported trench will collapse, for this reason safe systems of work, should be in place in order to protect persons who work in trenches. We could easily have been dealing with a fatal incident.”

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