White Card Update: Plant Hire Company Fined After Worker Killed

A construction accident in Box, Wiltshire in the UK has resulted in the death of worker who was operating a tarmac cutter at the time. The plant hire company who employed the worker was fined for the gruesome accident which resulted in the machine operator’s death.

The incident occurred when the man became entangled in the cutting wheel of the tarmac cutter while preparing trenches for new gas pipes to be fitted. Once he had completed his task and cut the trench he exited the cab while the cutting wheel was still raised and rotating causing him to be entangled in it and sustain serious injuries which resulted in his death.

Read the report from www.hse.gov.uk which explains what happened:

On 30 July 2009, Mr Guard was driving a trenching machine with a top cutter attachment. After completing the trench Mr Guard got down from the cab of the machine while the cutting wheel was still raised and rotating. He became entangled in the wheel, suffering fatal injuries.

The court heard a safety switch under the operator’s seat to stop the engine and the cutting wheel when the seat was vacated had been deliberately disabled. HSE also found the safety switches on all three top cutters owned by the firm had been bypassed.

The HSE investigation found that it was common practice for trench machine operators to check and change the picks during and at the end of each job. Although the firm recognised checking the picks was a two-man job, it routinely hired out the top cutter with only one worker. Checking the picks by a sole operator was quicker if the worker could leave his seat and observe the slowly rotating raised wheel.

South and West Highways Trenching, of Old Mill Road, Portishead, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and three breaches of Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 in relation to the incident. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £56,890 in costs.

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The tragic incident was condemned by UK authorities who accused the companies involved of disregarding the welfare of its employees by taking dangerous shortcuts. Such an attitude towards safety cannot be tolerated because as this incident indicates, safety failings by a company can have disastrous consequences for workers however the company still carries on with work as normal.

A top cutter is a very powerful and potentially dangerous machine. It is designed to cut through tarmac, so imagine what it would do to human flesh and bones?

The law clearly states that employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees and a safe work environment is provided which includes ensuring machinery and systems of work are safe and that workers are trained on the safe operation of machinery and equipment, especially dangerous equipment and machinery such as a tarmac cutter. Also when engaging in such dangerous tasks, workers should be supervised and left to work independently as it appears this worker was.



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