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Construction firm fined after engineer killed by falling steel mast

by Redmans Solicitors on September 16, 2013

An East London firm has been heavily fined by the Peterborough Crown Court after one of its employees was crushed by a falling metal mast at its site in Cambridgeshire.

Mr Nigel Sewell, 57, was working as a construction engineer at Universal Building Supply Ltd’s site in Wireless Station Park, Kneesworth, when the accident occurred on 19 September 2011. Mr Sewell was one quarter of a four-man team who were assembling a tri-mast at the rear of the site. This entailed the use of construction equipment in order to create the mast, including three mast sections in triangular formation. Two of the three masts had apparently been lowered into place when the accident occurred but the second mast wasn’t sitting correctly so Mr Sewell and a colleague attempted to force the mast into place using a sledge hammer and a crowbar. However, this didn’t work so a mechanical vehicle was used to push the mast into place. As he did so, both of the masts came away from their moorings and fell on Mr Sewell, crushing and killing him. He was pronounced death at the scene by medical practitioners.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) were notified of the accident and conducted an investigation into its circumstances. This investigation found that there had been numerous health and safety violations by Universal Builders Supply Ltd, including a failure to plan the work properly, a failure to supervise the work properly and that there had been no necessary separation of vehicles from the assembly process. It was therefore recommended that a prosecution be undertaken against Universal Builders.

This prosecution took place over the space of a week at Peterborough Crown Court, with the last day occurring on 4 September 2013. Universal Builders Supply Ltd had been found guilty of three offences of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was therefore fined a total of £125,000 and ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs of £40,000.

It is currently unknown as to whether Mr Sewell’s family will claim personal injury for any financial losses they have suffered as a result of his death.

Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the health and safety aspects of the case: “Employers have strict obligations to comply with health and safety legislation in the United Kingdom, and in order to avoid violating the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 businesses must take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that neither their employees nor third parties have their health, safety and/or welfare endangered by working practices.”

Mr Graham Tompkins, an HSE Inspector, said: “This tragic death could have been prevented had simple safety measures been thought through and put in place. Universal Builders Supply Ltd failed to plan the work properly, to provide appropriate instruction and to ensure there was competent supervision of the operation.”

Redmans Solicitors are Hammersmith employment solicitors and settlement agreement solicitors

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