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Hindsight is a Powerful Tool

 Jan 2014

Safety failings can have catastrophic consequences

At times we are guilty of complacency, especially when tackling the mundane and routine daily tasks that we are faced with - and yet it is exactly these that can lead to some of the most horrific accidents.

A Dorset contractor has recently been prosecuted after a worker was buried under a mountain of fallen earth at a building site in Poole.

Kevin Richards, 46, of Weymouth, was checking preparatory work for a basement retaining wall at a property in Lilliput in June 2012 when the unsupported sides of a three metre excavation collapsed. He was struck from behind and was quickly engulfed by the sheer volume of the soil.

On hearing the commotion, a colleague used his hands to remove the material and create and airway for Mr Richards who suffered a collapsed lung, fractured left shoulder blade, double break to his right leg, and two fractured ribs. He was in hospital for more than four weeks.

An HSE investigation found that the excavation at the site was not supported or suitably battered back.
Richards was working for a firm sub-contracted for the basement part of extension works.

The excavation was 150 square metres and three metres in height and Mr Richards was undertaking final checks on framework constructed to form a retaining wall as part of the basement.  He was in a narrow space between the formwork and the face of the excavation when the collapse happened without warning.

Pleading guilty to a safety breach, the firm and was fined £ 6,000, ordered to pay £4,000 in costs and a victim surcharge of £120.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector James Powell said: “This incident should never have happened.  It was only a matter of good fortune that Mr Richards was not killed.  Other workers were also put at risk."

There is a risk of collapse or partial collapse causing serious injury or death if an excavation is not supported or suitably battered back.  Any collapse has the potential to bury or injure people working in an excavation. Whilst Bluebay Properties Ltd had identified collapse as a hazard, they failed to implement control measures to reduce the risk, instead relying on a visual inspection. No ground can be relied upon to stand unsupported in any circumstances.

A Responsibility to Foresee

‘Hindsight is a powerful tool’ ­ a well-used phrase that should have no place in terms of workplace health and safety. While we don't have the power to foretell the future, it is within our gift to foresee the risk inherent in our work activities.

As employers we have a responsibility to identify these potential hazards and put in place measures to mitigate the level of risk encountered by our employees ­ even when concerning day to day activities that have been undertaken on a regular basis by event he most seasoned employees.

It’s never too late in the day to outline and implement your safety at work policy.

Further advice for SME's is available at the HSE website.

For more in-depth advice and gudiance on conducting risk analysis and implementing a robust health and safety policy, get in touch with the experts at Astutis.

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