A plant hire company has been heavily fined after a worker was killed in the course of their employment.

Mr Stuart Guard, 28, worked for Direct Plant Services Ltd (t/a South and West Highways Trenching) as a labourer. His duties involved preparing areas (including tarmacced areas) for excavation, using specialised machines. The accident occurred on 30 July 2009 when Mr Guard was using a trenching machine with a top-cutter attachment at a site in Box. This machine was designed to cut through the layer of tarmac so that trenches could be dug and pipes could be laid. After cutting through the tarmac and completing the trench Mr Guard climbed out of the cockpit of the machine. He subsequently became entangled in the cutting mechanism, which was stilling rotating. He suffered fatal injuries as a result of this. The accident was reported to the Health and Safety Executive and an investigation was subsequently undertaken. This investigation resulted in a recommendation by the HSE that the company be prosecuted for breaching health and safety laws.

The case came before the Swindon Crown Court on 26 April 2013. The court heard that there was supposed to be a switch under the driver’s seat of the trench-cutting machine that would automatically disable the trench-cutting mechanism when the driver’s door was opened. However, this switch had been deliberately disabled, meaning that the machine did not stop when Mr Guard climbed down from the cockpit. The HSE also found that the switches in three other machines owned by the company had also been disabled. Further, although the company was supposed to assign two workers to such a job, the HSE discovered that the company routinely only assigned one worker.

The company submitted a guilty plea to the Crown Court, which found that it was guilty of:

  • One count of a breach of s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, namely that the company had failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees
  • Three counts of a breach of Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, namely that the company ha d failed to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or that it failed to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery before any part of a person enters a danger zone

The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay£55,890 in costs as a result.

The HSE commented after the prosecution that “South and West Highways Trenching paid scant regard to the welfare of its employees and took dangerous shortcuts in its attitude toward safety. The company’s safety failings had disastrous consequences for Mr Guard”.

Chris Hadrill, employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case that “this case shows that it’s extremely important that dangerous construction machinery is not tampered with and that employees are rigorously trained in health and safety protocol”.

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The Direct 2 Lawyers Employment Team post daily on interesting employment law cases, Employment Tribunal judgments and Employment Appeal Tribunal judgments. All of the Employment Team posts are written by qualified specialist employment lawyers

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