Decommissioning Project Fatality (Britain)

Joint investigation by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the South Wales Police identifies fatal head injuries had occurred because a company had failed to adequately plan and resource decommissioning work. During dismantling of a section of industrial pipework at factory premises in Llantrisant in June 2010, a structure, weighing around 300kg, had collapsed and struck an employee (an engineer) who was assisting the specialist contractors.

During the decommissioning, the factory had become a construction site with the company electing to plan, manage and monitor the project themselves instead of appointing a competent Principal Contractor. As a consequence, it had overlooked various hazardous tasks such as the removal of overhead industrial pipes and their supporting structures. This work consequently fell to the in-house engineers because they had not contracted the specialists to do it.

The court was told that the employee’s work had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management, and that the various safety systems the company used to manage its specialist contractors had not been used to manage its own engineering staff on the same site.

The police and HSE investigation established that because no written plan was provided to the company team explaining how the structure was to be taken apart, various bolts and structural elements were removed in an unsafe sequence. This is what led to the eventual collapse.

The Court also heard that a production manager for the factory was in charge of the hazardous decommissioning project, despite never having done this work before or having received any formal training. Furthermore, a safety officer only visited once or twice a fortnight and was based in Somerset.

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne, said:

“Gavin Bedford, a young hard-working and highly-regarded engineer, was killed because of Gerber’s basic corporate failure to plan, manage and monitor a construction project. “Any demolition or dismantling work must be set down in writing and strictly monitored – as the law requires. It is also basic common sense.”

“If Gerber had given enough time at the beginning to think through what needed to be done, and how it should be done, then Gavin would still be here today.”

Prosecution was carried out under Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

The fine was £80,000, with an order to pay costs of £75,000.

The HSE press release is here.

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