Engineering firm fined after worker falls from truck

A civil engineering company from Loughborough, Leicestershire has been fined after a worker sustained serious injured in an accident at work.

The employee fractured his spine in a fall from his dumper truck.

The man was operating a dumper truck to remove soil from a drainage ditch, which was being excavated between a bridge pillar and a main road near Cambridge. As the employee was attempting to remount the vehicle he fell into the 2m deep excavation.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the gap between the safety barrier on the road and the excavation was too narrow for the driver to safely mount and dismount.

Excavation-related legislation

Every year people are killed or seriously injured in accidents on building sites by collapses and falling materials while working in excavations. Site workers and contractors are at risk from:

  • Excavations collapsing and burying or injuring people working in them
  • Material falling from the sides into any excavation
  • People or plant falling into excavations.

Before any work begins, commercial clients must provide relevant information about the site. This includes

  • Ground conditions
  • Underground structures or water courses
  • The location of existing services.

This information should be used to during the planning and preparation for excavation work.

The law states that danger to workers in or near excavations must be prevented and that a competent person must inspect excavation supports or battering at the start of the working shift and at other specified times. No work should take place until the excavation is safe.

Minimising risk

Since the date of the accident the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 has specified new legislation with regard to excavations. The HSE gives guidelines as follows:

Collapse of excavations

As no ground can be relied upon to stand unsupported in all circumstances and a cubic metre of soil can weigh more than 1.5 tonnes, it is important to take appropriate measures to ensure that any excavation is properly supported. Equipment to prevent the excavation collapsing must be on site before work commences.

Falling or dislodging material

To prevent loose materials falling from spoil heaps into the excavation, various means - such as projecting trench sheets - should be put in place. Workers should also wear head protection.

Undermining other structures

Excavations should not undermine scaffold footings, buried services or the foundations of nearby buildings or walls. A survey of the foundations and the advice of a structural engineer may determine whether extra support for the structure is necessary.

Effect of plant and vehicles

Plant and vehicles must not be parked close to the sides of excavations; the extra loadings may make the sides of excavations prone to collapse.

Falling into excavations

Edges of excavations should be protected with substantial barriers where people are liable to fall into them.

Guard rails and toe boards should be inserted into the ground immediately next to the supported excavation side, or fabricated guard rail assemblies connected to the sides of the trench box (a temporary earth retaining structure). Trench box extensions or sheets longer than the trench depth may also protect workers from falling into the excavation.

Excavations should be inspected after any event that may have affected their strength or stability, or after a fall of rock or earth. Any faults should be corrected immediately and a record of all inspections kept.

HSE powers to fine

By failing to plan, manage and monitor construction work in a way which ensured it was carried out without risks to health and safety, the company was guilty of breaching Regulation 13(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, and by not taking suitable and sufficient steps to prevent any person, work equipment, or any accumulation of material from falling into any excavation it was guilty of breaching regulation 31(2).

The company was fined £20,000 for each offence and ordered to pay costs of £2,047.

Making a injury claim

Where a firm has been found liable for a health and safety breach by the HSE, it is likely that a personal injury claim made by anyone injured as a result of the breach will succeed.

Compensation for injury claims made by site workers or other staff is likely to be paid by a company's insurance provider, rather than the company itself. Firms are required by law to maintain adequate public liability insurance to cover the cost of these injury claims.