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Firm sentenced after worker crushed to death

4 September 2013

An east London firm has been fined £125,000 after being found guilty of safety failings that led to the death of a worker who was crushed by a falling metal mast at its site in Cambridgeshire.

Construction engineer Nigel Sewell, 57, from Eaton Ford, St Neots, died as a result of his crush injuries following the incident at Universal Builders Supply Ltd, in Wireless Station Park, Kneesworth on 19 September 2011.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which brought the prosecution for safety breaches against Mr Sewell’s employer.

During a week-long trial at Peterborough Crown Court the jury was told Mr Sewell was part of a four man team assembling a tri-mast in the rear yard of the premises.

It consisted of three standard mast sections, in a triangular formation and each section was being lifted and then lowered vertically into a purpose-built jig using a telehandler and a four-leg chain sling.

Two sections had been lowered into the jig and bolted together, but the second section did not sit correctly so Mr Sewell and a colleague attempted to force it into the jig using a sledge hammer and crowbar.

The court heard that their attempts failed, so the driver of the telehandler was instructed to use the machine to push the mast section into the jig, which he did. He then positioned the telehandler ready to move the final section into place, but as he did so the two three-metres tall mast sections already in place, each weighing around one tonne, toppled onto Mr Sewell.

HSE found that there was inadequate planning and supervision of the work and there had been no separation of vehicles from the assembly process.

This meant that the telehandler, used to lift and lower the sections, inadvertently pushed over the two sections of the tri-mast onto Mr Sewell.

Universal Builders Supply Limited, of Rifle Street, London, was fined a total of £125,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 costs after being found guilty at an earlier hearing of three offences of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Regulation 8(1) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Speaking after the hearing HSE Inspector Graham Tompkins, said:

"The loss of Mr Sewell was devastating for his family and friends and is made even more incomprehensible by the fact that it was completely avoidable.

"This tragic death could have been prevented had simple safety measures been thought through and put in place. Universal Builders Supply Ltd failed to plan the work properly, to provide appropriate instruction and to ensure there was competent supervision of the operation."

More information about working with telehandlers can be found on the HSE website at:

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  3. Regulation 8(1) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 states: "Every employer shall ensure that every lifting operation involving lifting equipment is (a) properly planned by a competent person; (b) appropriately supervised; and (c) carried out in a safe manner."
  4. Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states: "Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of –
    1. the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
    2. the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking,

    for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions and by Part II of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997."

  5. A Tri-mast is a purpose built, self-standing tower similar to a scaffold tower, configured in a triangular formation to allow a lift car to run up and down one of the three masts sections.

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