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Property developer and builder in court over death at construction site

Date:
21 November 2014

A Middlesex property development firm and a Buckinghamshire contractor have been ordered to pay a total of over £180,000 for safety failings after a worker was killed whilst driving a dumper truck during construction works at a former military base in Buckinghamshire.

Geoffrey Crow, 48, from Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, sustained fatal crush injuries in the incident at the former RAF Chenies site on 13 February 2012. The dumper fell into a deep and completely unguarded excavation, overturned and landed directly on top of him. He was killed instantly by the five-tonne machine.

Harrow-based Lois Gastoneaux Ltd and Michael Brett, a self-employed contractor working on the site at the time, were sentenced today (20 November) after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified serious safety breaches in their operations.

St Albans Crown Court heard that Mr Crow, known to his friends as ‘Geoff’, was working at ground level whilst others were working to excavate a deep basement for a swimming pool at a new build property belonging to the sole director of Lois Gastoneaux Ltd, Mr Kevin Andrews.

The dumper went into the large excavation, which was up to 6.5 metres deep, shortly after he had freed the vehicle when it became stuck near the unguarded edge.

The HSE investigation found that despite operations being underway for some three weeks at the site, there were no measures in place to prevent people or vehicles falling into the excavation, or to prevent any collapse of the excavation faces onto those working below ground.

Additionally none of the workers on site, five including Mr Crow, were used to operating plant machinery, such as excavators and dumpers, as large as those they were asked to use here. Neither did they have relevant construction experience despite being tasked with digging such a large excavation.

The seat belt on the machine Mr Crow was driving was not operational at the time of the incident, and his colleagues also stated they would not usually wear seatbelts when operating the machines.

The court was told the range of issues were all contributory factors in the death, and that standards at the site fell well below those expected.

Lois Gastoneaux Ltd, from Harrow, Middlesex, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £28,033 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulations 37(6) and 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Michael Brett, of Lodge Lane, Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 37(6) and Regulation 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Speaking after sentencing HSE Inspector Stephen Manley, said:

“Working with construction plant can be extremely dangerous, which is why appropriate safety measures must be in place at all times to protect workers and others onsite.

“In this instance, Mr Crow died as a direct consequence of the lack of controls of the risks involved in the excavation operations. There was no protection whatsoever to ensure workers, whether driving machinery or otherwise, did not fall into the deep excavation.

“A number of people were at work with Mr Crow and they were all at risk of serious harm through the absence of physical controls, as well as poor maintenance of equipment and a lack of training and information provided to workers.

“There are clear industry standards setting out how to identify and manage risks, and guidance is widely available. So there is no excuse to let operations continue without having the proper health and safety measures in place..”

For more information about the use of mobile plant and equipment on construction sites log onto the HSE website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/safetytopics/mobileplant.htm

 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 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.”
  3. Regulation 37(6) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 states: “Suitable and sufficient measures shall be taken so as to prevent any vehicle from falling into any excavation or pit, or into water, or overrunning the edge of any embankment or earthwork.”
  4. Regulation 31(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 states: “All practicable steps shall be taken, where necessary to prevent danger to any person, including, where necessary, the provision of supports or battering, to ensure that—(a) any excavation or part of an excavation does not collapse; (b) no material from a side or roof of, or adjacent to, any excavation is dislodged or falls; and (c) no person is buried or trapped in an excavation by material which is dislodged or falls.”
  5. Further HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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