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Company sentenced after worker’s life changing injuries

Date:
30 July 2015

A company was fined £40,000 today after a worker suffered life changing injuries when part of a structure weighing 750kg fell on him.

Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court heard how an employee of Tunnel Tech Limited was dismantling polytunnel structures when the end bulkhead fell on him causing life threatening injuries.

A polytunnel is a tunnel made of polyethylene, usually semi-circular in shape, used to provide an effective environment for growing vegetation but can also protect crops from adverse weather.

On the day of the incident, the worker and three colleagues began to remove the cladding from the structures. They cut the side of the tunnel with a Stanley knife and pulled the outer layer and insulation off. It was decided that the internal steels would be removed first, leaving the internal hoop structure to remain. The structure had a layer of cladding on the inside then a layer of insulation inside a black plastic liner which was covered with a waterproof liner.

The court heard how the men applied the same method of removal but the sheet started to get quite hard to pull. One of the other men working suggested that they use the fork lift truck to pull the sheet off with a rope attached to the fork lift. The fork lift was driven away from the tunnel.

While the other men were a safe distance from the operation, the injured worker was moving some materials on the ground between the tunnel that was being dismantled and the skip it was being disposed of in. The end of the tunnel, consisting of the gable wall and weighing 750kg was pulled from the hoop structure and struck the worker causing severe initially life threatening injuries as he became stuck underneath the sheeting.

The worker, who does not wish to be named suffered a catalogue of injuries including a collapsed left lung, a ruptured diaphragm, displaced intestines, a broken pelvis, six rib fractures and fractures to his spine. He spent 10 days in intensive care, and a further 15 days in hospital.

He needed extensive rehabilitation and will need to wear specially modified footwear for the rest of his life. He now walks with a slight limp and the injuries sustained caused him to lose his independence, with his partner having to move in to take time off and help care for him.

The court was told by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who prosecuted the case that the incident was wholly preventable. It said if a suitable and sufficient risk assessment had been carried out then it would have identified the need to use suitably competent people with specialist skills and knowledge to carry out the work safely.

It would have also identified the risks and the measures it needed to adopt, such as the need for the task to be planned to prevent danger, and for exclusions zones that would have eliminated the possibility of the injured person being in the danger zone when the end gable wall fell.

HSE inspector Andrew Johnson said: “Demolition and dismantling work is recognised as being a particularly dangerous activity. As a result, it is essential that the risks are sufficiently assessed and the work is properly planned and carried out by persons who have sufficient expertise or training in demolition activities that would make them competent.

“The likelihood of the bulkhead falling due to this work was entirely foreseeable but the stability of the bulkhead had not been taken into consideration. The company failed to ensure that the work was adequately assessed, planned and supervised.

“Had they sourced and properly appointed a specialist contractor to carry out the work then it is unlikely this incident would have occurred.

This work was not properly planned out by the company and that lack of planning has led to a worker suffering very serious injuries which he is still working hard to recover from many months later. If it was not for the quick response of the air ambulance, could easily have resulted in a fatality.”

Tunnel Tech Limited, The Old Airfield, Leckford, Stockbridge, Hampshire, admitted three breaches of regulations; it was fined £20,000 for the first charge – Regulation 29 of Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and £10,000 for each of the other two charges – Regulation 4 of CDM and Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations. It was also ordered to pay full costs of £1890.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/
  3. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

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