Ben Wylie, aged 24, was killed when struck by a high-pressure stream of hydraulic oil. The incident took place almost seven years ago.
Reading Crown Court heard that, on 13th May 2014, Ben Wylie was assisting Ruislip Plant director Noel Kearney (since deceased) to fix a high-pressure grease track adjusting mechanism. They were working on a McAleer & Rushe site in Maidenhead building a Premier Inn hotel.
During the process, the grease nipple assembly and a stream of high-pressure grease was forcibly ejected from the mechanism and hit Ben Wylie in the shoulder and chest, causing fatal injuries.
An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that the components had been forcibly ejected on the previous day and had sustained damage in that event, reducing the pressure at which it would subsequently fail. Once the fitting had been ejected, it should not have been refitted. Despite the fittings having been previously ejected and damaged, Mr Kearney attempted to modify and refit the grease nipple and adaptor to the high-pressure system. He then began to re-pressurise the tracks by pumping in grease using a hand operated grease gun.
The pressure built in the system and at a critical point the damaged and modified components were again ejected. A pressure test with all suitable safeguards was required in these circumstances but there was no safe system of work during which resulted in the modifications to the grease gun bringing Ben Wylie into the danger zone.
Ruislip Plant Ltd of Lea Crescent, Ruislip, Middlesex pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company has been fined £99,000 and ordered to pay costs of £116, 973.36.
HSE inspector John Glynn said after the hearing: “HSE guidance is very specific on how this work should be undertaken and previously ejected or damaged parts must not be reused as they were in this case. This incident could have been avoided if Ruislip Plant Ltd had instead undertaken a risk assessment and devised a safe system of work. That safe system of work would necessarily have ensured that new parts were used, and that the safety procedure of a pressure test was performed. However, a new component was not used in this incident and the safety procedure was not adhered to.
“That failure to adhere to the correct procedure for pressure testing was directly causative of this incident. No control measures were put in place by Ruislip Plant Limited and that sadly led to the death of Ben Wylie.”
A victim personal statement from Ben Wylie’s mother, Mylene Bensley, was read to Reading Crown Court. It included the passage: “Ben’s death was not immediate, and I will have the visions of my son standing up after being shot by oil and a piece of equipment and stumbling across a building site saying he felt sick and spewing out blood and then falling down forever etched into my mind, due to the inadequate provision for his safety.
“The information started coming through in graphic minutia of detail of how Ben died. I took each blow of information because my son had taken the blow that killed him, and I wanted to be there in my mind in any way I could be because I couldn’t be there for his dying moments. Ben’s body was returned home on my birthday in a coffin.
“We have suffered for seven years with no government assistance and a sham of justice we have to continue despite anger, deep hurt and insecurity.”
The campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) has supported Ben Wylie’s family over the past seven years. FACK facilitator Hilda Palmer said: “Families Against Corporate Killers welcome the sentence but note that justice delayed so long is always to some extent justice denied. FACK has supported Mylene throughout the HSE investigation, the inquest and the trial. There is no automatic statutory support for families of those killed by employer’s negligence, no free legal representation at Inquest, and no financial compensation for the family of a young man without dependents to offset the costs of pursuing justice or coping with the effects of grief on health and earning capacity.
“Families suffer terribly. Mothers like Mylene suffer the most and siblings also suffer badly. None of this is accounted for or deemed worthy of support and help by the authorities or employers who cause preventable deaths like Ben’s. And since work-related death is little acknowledged, publicised or understood, many employers and even friends and family have no idea of the trauma suffered, the callous cruelty of the process or its costs to individual’s harmed due to no fault of their own but an employer failing to comply with health and safety law.
“The harms caused included the lack of financial or mental health support immediately or over the very long period it affects those grieving a traumatic death, and long-term impact of bereavement on parents and siblings. FACK believes that many bereaved families suffer undiagnosed and untreated PTSD and we demand more help for families to alleviate their suffering. FACK commends Mylene for her bravery in pursuing justice for Ben, being his witness, while also being the bread winner, caring for his sister and brother and coping with her own grief. She is truly courageous and inspiring.”
Families Against Corporate Killers is run by Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (gmhazards.org.uk/index.php/fack)