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Fife firm fined after worker trapped in trench

Written by Phoenix Health & Safety
9th June 2017

Wallace Roofing and Building Limited of Glenrothes has been fined £14,000 after a worker had to be dug out of a collapsed trench.

Dundee Sheriff Court heard that the 43-year-old employee suffered fractures to his shoulder, collarbone and all but two of his ribs as well as having both lungs punctured. He spent almost three weeks in hospital. 

The incident happened in September 2011 at a house renovation in Falkland. An excavator was digging a trench, connecting the property's drainage system with a new extension, when workers tried to remove a boulder using the excavator. The injured man was in the trench, helping to guide the excavator, when a nine-foot trench wall collapsed on top of him. Workers immediately removed soil around the man’s head allowing him to breathe, but he remained buried until the emergency services dug him free. 

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the trench had not been supported or ‘stepped back’ to control the risk of collapse. Inspectors also found that nobody had formal health and safety training for managing a construction site, that the work had not been risk assessed, and that workers received verbal briefings rather than detailed, mapped out planning. 

Wallace Roofing and Building Limited, of Star, Glenrothes, Fife, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. 

HSE Inspector Ritchie McCrae said:

“The risks associated with collapsing excavation walls are well known, as are the necessary control measures which could easily have been employed. On this occasion, the company failed to identify the risk and consequently there was a total absence of any control measures which would have prevented this incident. The injured extremely lucky to still be alive".

Phoenix comments: 

There were multiple failings by the duty holders on this project, covering planning, risk assessment, training and execution. It is inevitable and foreseeable that an unsupported trench will collapse, so safe systems of work should be in place to protect workers in trenches. This incident could easily have been fatal had his co-workers not immediately removed soil from around his head. The Union, Unite, has publicly criticised the penalty for not sending a strong enough message to other firms about the importance of safety, stating that ‘£14,000 seems a paltry sum given the nature of what this worker has had to suffer’.