Two company directors have been given suspended prison sentences after a 20-year-old worker was killed on his first day on the job when the four-tonne dumper he was driving toppled down an embankment.
Daniel Whiston, from Dulverton, Somerset, was allowed to drive the front-tipping dumper after only 30 minutes’ training from a colleague. The vehicle was later found to have a number of serious defects, including faulty steering and inoperative front brakes and handbrake.
Exeter Crown Court heard that Mr Whiston’s employers, company directors William Friend and Robert Plume, were working on a project to expand a pond at Sweetings Farm, near Tiverton. Their company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, had been contracted to excavate and move spoil around the site.
On 27 October 2009 Mr Whiston’s colleague, who was the only other worker on the site, was operating an excavator when he saw the fully-loaded dumper topple off the side of the narrow causeway and down the 60° slope. It turned over and crushed Mr Whiston underneath.
HSE’s investigation found a number of serious failings on the site. The excavator driver was not trained to teach Mr Whiston how to use the dumper and was not competent to supervise him as he had no formal qualifications for driving the dumper.
In addition, no sufficient risk assessment had been carried out for the work and no safe system of work was used.
Robert Plume, of South Molton, and William Friend, of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple, each pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were both given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 180 hours of community service, to be completed within a year. They were also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 each.
“The very serious failures to manage this job properly contributed to the tragic and needless loss of a young man’s life,” said HSE inspector Jonathan Harris after the hearing. “Workers have a right to expect that the equipment they use is appropriate for the task, properly maintained and in a safe condition.
“Mr Whiston was not given suitable basic or advanced training under the industry’s Construction Plant Competence Scheme and was, instead, given a short briefing by a worker who himself had no formal qualifications for driving the dumper.
“Anyone in control of construction projects must ensure the work is properly planned and risk assessed to avoid similar tragedies in the future. Knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how it should be done safely.”
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