Warrington firm fined after worker falls to death

Michael Hunt

A Warrington plant-hire company has been fined £200,000 for health and safety failings that lead to an employee falling five metres to his death.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive showed that the company failed to follow its own health and safety guidelines for work at height.

The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Ashtead Plant Hire Co, trading as APlant, which admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The company, based at Dalton Avenue in Birchwood Park, Warrington, was also ordered to pay £15,698 towards the cost of the prosecution at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday (13 April).

Fifty five year old Phillip Pearce, from Medway in Kent, had worked as a fitter at the company's depot at Tovil, Maidstone, for less than three months when he died on 16 August 2006.

His job was to prepare accommodation units, including site huts, welfare units and storage containers, which were then hired out to construction companies.

With two units stacked on top of each other, Pearce climbed onto the top of the stack to help attach lifting chains so that the top unit could be lifted down. He fell more than five metres and died at the scene.

The HSE said Ashtead Plant Hire Co had a written procedure for work on top of accommodation units in its depots and at customers' sites. This required people to wear a safety harness and inertia reel line, and climb a secured ladder. If they slipped or fell, the line would lock and prevent a serious fall.

The Health and Safety Executive's investigation found that workers at the depot had not been issued with this kit or been trained to use it and most did not know the company had a special procedure for doing this work.

The court heard that, despite the depot handling up to 15 accommodation unit movements a day, management at the depot did not ensure that workers were aware of the procedure and did not ensure that the work was only done by those trained, equipped and authorised.

John Underwood, a Health and Safety Executive inspector, said: "This was a wholly avoidable incident which led to a tragic and totally unnecessary loss of life.

"It is completely inexcusable that the company had identified the risks, prepared an adequate procedure to manage the risk, and then failed to implement that procedure to protect its workers.

"Health and safety is not just about filling in forms or thinking about risk – it's about taking action to prevent people being killed or injured while trying to do their job.

"I hope this case will be an example to other companies that health and safety must not only be taken seriously but also followed through."

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