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Contractors fined £2M after storm drain trench collapse

Three companies - Kier MG, John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) and Lawless Civils – have been fined more than £2M by Lincoln Crown Court after a worker's leg was broken in six places when a trench which he was working in collapsed on him.

Vincent Talbot, from Lincoln, suffered the leg injuries when his leg was crushed in the incident at Fleet Street, Holbeach, Lincolnshire on March 9, 2012. He was trapped in the trench for 15 minutes before being extracted by the fire and rescue service and then airlifted to hospital. His right ankle has been left permanently damaged. He was off work for more than a year and vows never to work in a trench again.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found insufficient measures were taken to protect those working in trench, and a series of safety errors had led to the collapse.

Principal contractor Kier MG was appointed by Lincolnshire County Council to install new storm drains. Kier MG sub-contracted the installation work to John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers), which subsequently further sub-contracted the work to Lawless Civils.

Talbot was a self- employed contractor hired by Lawless Civils. John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) failed to inform Kier MG of the appointment of Lawless Civils. Lawless was an approved contractor of Kier MG, but not approved for this type of specialist excavation work. Lawless appointed a supervisor who had never supervised work, he did not have the relevant training and qualifications to do so.

After the accident to Talbot, John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) backdated the method statement to give the impression that it was signed by the workers prior to the trench collapsing. A 3m-long trench box shielded workers but the pipes being laid in the trench were 6m long, meaning workers were not protected over the length of the pipe.

Other trench support systems, such as trench sheeting were not used, and the unsupported trench had water leaking into it. The trench had been left open overnight and concrete was being used to bed the pipes in 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 Talbot attempted to level a pipe section for a second time, the sides of the trench collapsed and trapped him.

The three contractors were sentenced by Lincoln Crown Court on December 19, 2016. Kier MG, of Sandy, Bedfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. It was fined £1.5M and ordered to pay £23,327.83. John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers), 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. The company was fined £550,000 and ordered to pay £166,217.86. Lawless Civils, of Lincoln, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and was 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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