Construction company responsible for bricklayer's death

A Cheshire construction company has been prosecuted and ordered to pay fines and costs of almost £400,000 following a fatal accident in January, 2011.

The firm was the main contractor at a construction site in Wilmslow when a stack of bricks fell on a construction worker, causing fatal crush injuries. The case was highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to emphasise important health and safety considerations for the construction industry.  

Crush Injuries Caused by Significant Health and Safety Breaches 

The bricklayer was sub-contracted from a Burslem-based firm to work on several construction projects in the Wilmslow area. He was working on site on 7 January, 2011, when a pallet of bricks fell on top of him. The 22-year-old suffered severe crush injuries and died shortly after arriving at hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found a number of health and safety breaches at the site. Specifically, the pallets used to transport bricks were in poor condition and the storage of pallets was crudely organised, with a high risk of collapse.

The operator of the site pleaded guilty to breaching various sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The Cheshire-based firm was ordered to pay £97,500 in fines with £300,000 costs.

Safety Lessons for the Construction Industry

Since 2001, 760 workers have died in preventable building site contractor accidents. This accounts for 32 percent of all fatal workplace accidents; a disproportionately high number, given that only 5 percent of the UK workforce is employed in the construction sector.

While the industry's safety record has shown steady improvement over the last two decades, this case reported by the HSE indicates that there remains a need for further change.

Principal contractors have a duty to manage health and safety risks during the construction process. These duties are extensive, and require lead contractors to, among other things:

  • Carry out risk assessment on individual work processes
  • Take steps to mitigate the risk of an accident occurring
  • Store and transport materials safely
  • Keep equipment in good repair and working order
  • Issue personal protective equipment such as hard hats and steel toe-capped boots, wherever necessary
  • Train staff to lift and carry items and perform their duties safely.

Contractors who breach health and safety legislation face criminal prosecution. In England and Wales, the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for bringing prosecutions against those who break workplace safety regulations.

The HSE's role

The HSE does not handle personal injury claims for compensation made by persons injured on a construction site.

However, breaching a health and safety rule is strong evidence that the contractor was negligent, and therefore may be liable to pay compensation in an accident at work injury claim.  

Lessons continue to be learned from cases such as this, and it is hoped that these can be shared within the construction industry to reduce, or prevent, such accidents happening again.