The construction company and its groundworks contractor sentenced

Ridwaan Omar
Ridwaan Omar

Published: January 19th, 2022

7 min read

A construction company and its groundworks contractor have been fined after unsafe excavation work left a worker with serious burns to his hand and arm.

A groundworker was preparing the ground to install a post to carry an Automatic Number Plate Recognition Camera (ANPRC) on 2 August 2018.

Initially, the worker dug by hand, however, due to the ground conditions and numerous hedgerow roots he started to use a 110V mechanical electric breaker.

The incident occurred when the groundworker struck a power cable supplying an adjacent British Telecommunications building. The voltage of the cable was 415v causing the ground worker to receive an electric shock that caused burns to one hand and to his opposite arm.

The HSE's investigation found that site plans for buried cables had not been consulted and a cable avoidance tool had not been used to locate buried services in advance of carrying out the work. In addition, there was a lack of properly trained labour and supervision in place for the excavation works.

The principal contractor on site had failed to plan, manage and monitor the excavation works and also failed to provide adequate supervision for the ANPR installation project.

CLC Contractors Limited (the Principal Contractor) pleaded guilty to breaching 13 (1) Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 and were fined £400,000.00 and ordered to pay costs of £5,300.00.

Paul Gale, Company Director of PAG Building Services Ltd, pleaded guilty to Section 37(1) Health and Safety Work Act 1974.

Due to the seriousness of the offence the case was referred to Aylesbury Crown Court for sentencing. Paul Gale was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months and 150 hours of community service. HSE was awarded costs of £7,200.

Speaking after the case, HSE Inspector John Caboche commented: "Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of working. In this instance, readily available buried service records were not consulted, and a cable avoidance tool was not provided to the groundworks team. Utilising these simple steps would have prevented this serious incident."

Forbes Comment:

Regulation 13, sets out the duties required of a principal contractor in relation to health and safety during the construction phase. There is a duty on them to plan, manage and monitor and coordinate matters relating to health and safety during the works so that works are carried out without risks to health and safety.

This would ordinarily have required the principal contractor to ensure that subcontractors were aware of the risk of the work involved, review and assess the risk assessments and method statements provided by the subcontractors in relation to the carrying out of the works to ensure that this accorded with the principle of protection of workers and manage and coordinate the works being undertaken by subcontractors that it was being undertaken in a safe manner.

The level of fine on the principal contractor reflects the seriousness of the breach in terms of the likelihood of harm and culpability.

The individual company director of the subcontractor was prosecuted under section 37 which requires the offence to have been committed with the consent or connivance of or had been attributable to any neglect on the part of the accused. Again the seriousness of the culpability and likelihood of harm is reflected in the sentence of the Crown Court.

The message is clear to principal contractors that subcontracting works to other contractors does not absolve them from ensuring the health and safety of those affected during the construction phase of a project.

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