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Collective failures led to death of worker

Date:
21 May 2013

A County Durham man has been jailed and a Tyneside firm and one of its directors fined after a demolition worker fell to his death from a cherry picker that was knocked over by a falling roof beam.

Ken Joyce, 53, of Lanchester, County Durham, was working for Allan Turnbull, trading as A&H Site Line Boring and Machining, when the incident happened on 2 December 2008. He was dismantling the structural steelwork of the roof of the Burning Hall at the Swan Hunter Shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle.

During a four-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court, a jury heard how Mr Joyce was working from one cherry picker while two colleagues were working from another cherry picker and a crane. They were dismantling the structure and were using a crane to lower the steel beams to the ground.

While removing a beam brace connecting two plate girders, one of the plate girders struck the basket of the cherry picker in which Mr Joyce was standing, knocking the equipment over.

Mr Joyce fell to the ground below and suffered serious head injuries. He was pronounced dead soon after.

A joint investigation carried out by Northumbria Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC) had sub-contracted the dismantling work to Allan Turnbull.

The jury was told that NEMOC and its director Christopher William Taylor failed to ensure the safety of its employees and sub-contracted workers by neglecting to check that Mr Turnbull had the necessary competence to carry out the work.

The police and HSE investigation also found that Allan Turnbull had failed to adequately plan the work after identifying a lack of suitable and sufficient lifting plans to ensure a safe system of work was in place for the dismantling of the structural steelwork.

Allan Turnbull, 61, of Boundary Cottages Farm, Inkerman, Tow Law, County Durham, was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter following the trial. He had earlier pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) by virtue of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC), which had been operating from the Swan Hunter Yard, was fined £1 for each offence after it was found guilty in absence of breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company is now in liquidation.

Christopher William Taylor, 51, of North Cottage, Adderstone Crescent, Newcastle, was found guilty of breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) by virtue of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was fined a total of £30,000 (£15,000 for each offence) and ordered to pay £50,000 costs.

After the case, which was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, HSE Inspector Emma Scott, said:

"This was a tragedy that could easily have been prevented had a safe system of work been in place.

"Instead Ken Joyce lost his life as a result of collective failures which included not preparing in advance a detailed plan of how the work should be carried out and no lifting plans to ensure the safe removal of the beams.

"Allan Turnbull was also prosecuted in November 2005 after an employee sustained serious leg injuries while dismantling a redundant brick manufacturing plant.

"I hope other companies can learn from this and ensure they take the necessary action to deal with the high risk involved with work of this nature."

Chief Inspector Mark Anastasi, of Northumbria Police, said:

"This is a tragic case. Ken left home to go to work and never returned. He left behind his partner Eva and his family who never saw him again. They have been very supportive of the investigation and have shown their love for Ken throughout.

"Swan Hunter shipyard formed a major part of the local community and sadly, at the end of an era, during the dismantling process Ken lost his life as a result of the mismanagement of the work. The failures from both the individuals and the company showed a total disregard for safe working practices.

"Ken’s employer failed to improve his work following a similar incident in 2005, yet he continued to perform dismantling work.

"This complex and lengthy enquiry has shown that Northumbria Police and the HSE, with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, will work in partnership to ensure offenders are brought to justice."

In a statement, Mr Joyce’s family said:

"As his family, we are striving to honour Kenneth’s memory and are still coming to terms with the void his absence has left in our lives over the past four years.

"Above all else we have hoped for justice for him and for the intensity of the sadness and grief created by his untimely passing, to ease and lessen with the aid of this justice, along with the healing passage of time."

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. www.hse.gov.uk
  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. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."
  4. To be found guilty of Gross negligence manslaughter the defendant has to owe a duty of care to the deceased; be in breach of this duty; the breach has to have caused the death of the deceased; and the defendant’s negligence was gross i.e. showed such a disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime and deserve punishment.
  5. During the year 2011-12, more than 3,400 employees suffered a major injury as a result of a fall from height at work and 40 were killed. Information about preventing falls in the workplace is available at www.hse.gov.uk/falls
  6. The case against North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC), Christopher William Taylor and Allan Turnbull was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service. The Crown Prosecution Service is the independent authority responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by Police in England and Wales. More information: www.cps.gov.uk

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