HSE warns over trainee supervision after teenager’s death

Three companies and a manager were fined a total of £217,500 plus £125,000 costs at Manchester Crown Court today for breaching health and safety law, following the death of a 17-year-old trainee scaffolder.

Steven Burke, from Levenshulme, Manchester, died at Davyhulme Wastewater Treatment Works on 30 January 2004 after falling approximately 18 metres whilst working to construct a scaffold within a 20-metre high sewage digester tank.

He was employed by 3D Scaffolding Ltd and under the control of a visiting contracts manager, David Swindell. Irlam was contracted to work for RAM Services Ltd, itself a subcontractor of the project's principal contractor, Mowlem Group.

3D Scaffolding Ltd, of Brunnell Drive, on the Northbank Industrial Estate in Irlam, Greater Manchester, pleaded guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that it failed to maintain a safe system of work and was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.

David Swindell Junior of Barrington Drive, Middlewich, Cheshire, a contracts manager employed by 3D Scaffolding Ltd, was found guilty of breaching section 7 of the HSW Act in that he failed to take reasonable care for the health and safety of other persons who might be affected by his acts or omissions at work. He was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £15,000 costs.

The principal contractor, Mowlem, based in Middlesex, and RAM Services Ltd of Holyoake House, Lowerhouse Lane, Burnley, which employed 3D Scaffolding Ltd, each pleaded guilty to charges of breaching section 3(1) of the Act, in that they failed to ensure the safety of people not in their employment. Mowlem was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs. RAM Services Ltd also pleaded guilty to a charge, under Regulation 29 of the Construction (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1996, in that they failed to ensure that scaffolding used by their own employees had been properly inspected to ensure that it was safe to use. RAM Services was fined a total of £75,000 and ordered to pay £70,000 costs.

The fines come at the start of an HSE initiative using intensive inspection and aimed at reducing the rise in serious and fatal injuries on construction and refurbishment sites. During the campaign more than 1,000 sites nationally will be visited to try and reduce the rise in serious and fatal injuries.

Commenting on the case, brought by HSE, chief inspector of construction Stephen Williams, said: "This is a very distressing case which should send the strongest message to everyone responsible for the safety of young workers.

"All industries, especially the construction sector, rely on keen young people. However, employment opportunities must not come at the expense of young workers' safety.

"With the number of apprentices in the workplace set to increase, it is critical that the work they are expected to carry out has been properly assessed and suitable controls put in place to ensure their health and safety. Managers and supervisors have to recognise that youngsters fresh to the workplace may well have a limited perception of the risks involved in the work.

"Steven Burke's death, at the very start of his working life was not only a tragedy, it was also entirely preventable. Had those responsible assessed the work properly and ensured that he was supervised at all times by a qualified scaffolder, then Steven would not have been killed. Our thoughts go out to his family."

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