Claxton Engineering Services has been fined £500,000 after four workers were simultaneously fatally crushed when a metal cage they were building collapsed ‘like a pack of cards’ at a pipework testing facility in Norfolk.
The principal contractor Encompass Project Management was fined £200,000 and its director given a seven and a half month prison sentence, suspended for two years, for the incident on 21 January 2011.
The construction phase plan for the project had started in 2006, the Old Bailey heard. Claxton provides engineering services to the offshore energy sector and had wanted a pressure testing facility (PTF) built at their yard in Great Yarmouth. Its purpose was to test sections of pipe on dry land to make sure they could withstand high pressures when submerged at sea.
“By their own admission, Claxton were not construction specialists,” said Annette Hall, head of operations construction division, HSE, who spoke to Safety Management after the sentencing on 26 May.
HSE prosecuted Claxton under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 for failures in their duties as a client. “In Encompass, Claxton hired a company that was not competent to do the work.”
There were two significant excavations to the project – a vertical and a horizontal PTF. Both required substantial concrete foundations, said Hall.
At the time of the incident the four men were building a heavy steel cage that formed part of the foundation for the horizontal PTF. It was 23m long, 3m wide and 2m deep.
The cage would have weighed about 32 tonnes when completed.
It collapsed on top of the men: “It went down like a pack of cards,” said Hall.
“It was like a scaffold, just horizontal and vertical bars, it collapsed downwards. There was a lack of any structural stability – it literally collapsed.”
A large scale emergency response attempted to try and rescue the trapped workers – including two brothers and all friends from Stanton near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk - but they were pronounced dead at the scene.
The men were: Adam Taylor; 28, 41-year-old Peter Johnson and brothers Thomas Hazelton; 26 Daniel Hazelton; 30. All were self-employed contractors with Hazegood Construction Ltd apart from Daniel who was an employee of the firm.
Claxton were found to have failed to make proper stipulations as to the appointment of sub-contractors and failed to ensure there were safety documents in particular a construction safe plan in place.
They had ignored warnings to follow the CDM regulations and had failed to appoint a CDM co-ordinator under the 2007 regulations.
In turn, Encompass, and through their director David Groucock, appointed ground contractors in Hazegood who were also not competent to take on a project of this scale.
“The total failure to plan and think the project through from the client to sub-contractor doing the work, led to the incident,” said Hall.
Justice Jeremy Baker gave Claxton just 10% off the fine after the firm delayed pleading guilty until April 2017.
He said the culpability was medium because Claxton was a client not a construction company. But the Harm level was A, category A1. The starting point fine for a medium sized company was £540,000 and he settled on £500,000 after imposing the reduction.
Encompass was guilty of high culpability, harm category A1. The Judge had to decide whether to impose a nominal fine or to fine on the basis on the turnover (£3m at the time of the incident) recognising that it probably wouldn’t be recovered. He went down the route of the latter and fined it with a starting point £250,000, with 25% off for guilty plea. It was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000.
Claxton Engineering Services Ltd of Ferryside, Ferry Road, Norwich pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 9(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The company was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay costs of £100,000.
Encompass Project Management Ltd of The Gables, Old Market Street, Thetford, Norfolk pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000.
David Groucott of Diss, Norfolk, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37(1) of Health and Safety at Work Act. He was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid community work within 12 months, and also ordered to pay costs of £7,500 in addition to a suspended prison sentence.
Charges against Hazegood Construction Ltd were ordered to lie on file.
“Those sentenced failed the four workers who died. They didn’t carry out their legal duties, leading to the events which caused their deaths,” said Hall.
“This was a long term, large scale and complex civil engineering project which needed to be planned, designed, managed and monitored effectively. The tragedy here is that, in the months leading up to the accident, any one of these parties could and should have asked basic questions about building the structure safely. Such an intervention could have avoided the tragic outcome of this entirely preventable accident.”
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