The Environment Agency has been fined a total of £169,710 by Lincoln Crown Court after admitting a breach of health and safety law in relation to a fatal accident on the banks of the River Witham on 12 September 2001. After the hearing, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warned construction contractors they should ensure proper planning and precautions before undertaking work near water.
The Agency pleaded guilty to the charges after the death of their employee Steven Hughes who was working on flood banks on the River Witham. He drowned when the soil-laden dumper truck he was driving overran the edge of the bank and overturned into the river.
The Agency was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and faced a single charge of failing to ensure the safety of employees by not taking adequate precautions to prevent vehicles overrunning the edge of the flood bank, in particular not adequately planning the work, not providing a safe system of work and such information and training as was necessary.
The Agency was fined £150,000, and ordered to pay full HSE costs of £19,710.
Before work started the Agency prepared a plan that required all vehicles to be kept a safe distance from the edge of the bank. But the plan did not specify what physical precautions could or should be taken to prevent vehicles overturning into the water and did not adequately consider what equipment was selected for the conditions or set out safe haul routes, passing points and turning areas. Steven Hughes had not been trained to drive the vehicle.
After the hearing, HSE Principal Construction Inspector Samantha Peace, who took the prosecution, said:
“Mr Hughes’ death was a result of failures in the preparation and execution of the job. When planning construction work near water contractors should ensure they have selected the right equipment for the site conditions, particularly where narrow banks and steep slopes leave little margin for error. They should also define haul routes and turning points, mark the edges of the bank and difficult transition points on the routes with 2m poles and tape and ensure the people who work on the job have been trained.”
“What really counts is that these precautions then become a reality – that workers are told about them and not left to tackle the work on the hoof. The only way that will happen is with effective supervision and management monitoring.”