Vincent Talbot, 47, from Lincoln, suffered serious leg injuries when his leg was crushed in the incident at Fleet Street, Holbeach, Lincolnshire on 9th March 2012. Kier MG (formerly May Gurney) was the main contractor, appointed by Lincolnshire County Council to install new storm drains.
Yesterday (19th December 2016) Lincoln Crown Court sentenced Kier MG Ltd, John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) Ltd and Lawless Civils Ltd.
Vince Talbot was trapped in the trench for 15 minutes in the incident before being extracted by fire and rescue service and airlifted to hospital. His right ankle has been left permanently damaged, pointing 10 degrees off line. He was off work for more than a year.
An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) uncovered a series of safety errors.
Kier MG had subcontracted the installation work to John Henry, who subsequently further sub-contracted the work to Lawless Civils. Mr Talbot was a self-employed contractor hired by Lawless Civils. John Henry failed to inform Kier MG of the appointment of Lawless Civils. Lawless was an approved contractor of Kier MG but not approved for this type of specialist excavation work. Lawless appointed a supervisor who had never supervised work and did not have the relevant training or qualifications to do so.
After the accident, John Henry & Sons (backdated the method statement to give the impression that it was signed by the workers prior to the trench collapsing.
A three-metre long trench box shielded workers but the pipes being laid in the trench were six metres long, meaning workers were not protected over the length of the pipe. Other trench support systems such as trench sheeting were not used, and the unsupported trench had water leaking into it.
The trench had been left open overnight and concrete was being used to bed the pipes in at the bottom of the trench, instead of pea gravel as specified by the client.
Water mixed with the concrete, making the pipe levelling process extremely difficult as the level of the pipe bed had to be continuously adjusted. When Vince Talbot was attempting to level a pipe section for a second time, the sides of the trench collapsed and trapped him.
Kier MG Ltd of Tempsford Hall, Sandy, Bedfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. It was fined £1.5m and ordered to pay £23,327.83.
John Henry & Sons (Civil Engineers) Ltd of Barnwell Road, Cambridge denied the charge but was found guilty after a trial of breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £550,000 and ordered to pay £166,217.86.
Lawless Civils Ltd of Doddington Road, Lincoln, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £40,500 and ordered to pay £53,346.59.
HSE inspector Martin Waring said: “This incident was foreseeable and avoidable and Mr Talbot’s injuries were the result of multiple failings by the duty holders, from the planning stage through to the execution of the project, resulting in the inevitable collapse of an unsupported trench. Sufficient trench support systems were not provided.
“Even while the excavation phase had begun, a catalogue of errors and omissions led to the injuries of Vincent Talbot. It is inevitable that at some time an unsupported trench will collapse, for this reason safe systems of work should be in place in order to protect persons who work in trenches. We could easily have been dealing with a fatal incident.”