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Poor planning puts paid to piling career

22 Apr 15 Two contractors have been fined after a worker suffered a career-ending blow from a four-tonne piling hammer on a northeast civil engineering project.

The scene of the accident
The scene of the accident

Costain and Southbay Civil Engineering have this week each been fined £19,000 for their safety breaches.

Eric Wilson, 62, of Hartlepool, was controlling a piling hammer, suspended from an excavator, during work to renew a sewage outfall across the beach at Burn Road, Hartlepool when the incident happened on 16th September 2012.

He was standing in seawater, around one metre deep, using the hammer to drive timber piles into the beach. But as the hammer was moved from one pile to the next, the sling supporting it broke and the hammer fell, knocking him down into the water.

He suffered fractures to his vertebra, pelvis and left thigh as well as muscle damage to his back, shoulder and knee and was in hospital for 11 days. He has been unable to return to work and has had to move to a bungalow to avoid stairs.

Hartlepool magistrates heard this week that an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Wilson’s employer Southbay Civil Engineering had failed to properly plan, supervise and carry out the lifting operation in a safe manner.

The investigation also found that principal contractor for the project, Costain, had failed to properly manage and monitor this phase of the work.

The court was told that a smaller hammer, which was easily lifted into position by the excavators on site, had been identified when the work was initially planned. However, the smaller hammer was found not to be powerful enough so a larger hammer was brought in.

The additional weight was not an issue for the excavators, but the extra length led to problems when lifting the hammer over some piles, which led to unsafe working practices being used, in which the slings were stressed over the sharp edges of excavator buckets in an attempt to gain extra height.

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This was what caused the sling to break, and the hammer to fall. This could have been avoided if the work plan had been changed when the larger hammer was introduced and a suitable lifting machined used.

Costain Ltd, of Vanwall Business Park, Maidenhead, Berkshire, was fined £19,000 and ordered to pay £14,895.25 costs after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 22(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

Southbay Civil Engineering Ltd, of The Bailey, Cumberland Road, North Shields, was fined £19,000 and ordered to pay £8,652.45 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Regulation 8(1)(c) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.

After the case, HSE inspector Martin Smith said: “This worker’s injuries should not and need not have happened. Had the work plan been changed when the circumstances changed and a different hammer was brought into use, it could have easily been avoided by using a suitable lifting machine.

“Instead, a system of work evolved that was far from safe and as a result part of the sling was stretched across the sharp edge of the excavator bucket, causing it to break.

“The failures by both companies to look properly at the risks involved and then organise the lifting operation properly put staff at needless risk. This sadly led to the painful and life-changing injuries suffered by Mr Wilson.”

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