£200,000 fine after Kent worker falls to his death

A plant hire company has been fined £200,000 for health and safety failings that lead to an employee falling five metres to his death.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that the company failed to follow its own health and safety guidelines for work at height.

HSE prosecuted Ashtead Plant Hire Co Ltd trading as APlant who admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company, based at Dalton Ave in Birchwood Park, Warrington was also ordered to pay £15,698.30 in costs at Maidstone Crown Court today, 14 April 2010.

Phillip Pearce, aged 55, from the Medway area, had worked as a fitter at the company’s depot at Tovil, Maidstone – where they provide portable accommodation units to the construction industry – for less than three months when he died on 16 August 2006.

Mr Pearce’s job was to prepare the accommodation units – including site huts, welfare units and storage containers – which were then hired out to construction companies. With two units stacked on top of each other, Mr Pearce climbed onto the top of the stack to help attach lifting chains so that the top unit could be lifted down. He fell more than five metres and died at the scene.

Ashtead Plant Hire Co Ltd had a written procedure for work on top of accommodation units in its depots and at customers’ sites. This required people to wear a safety harness and inertia reel line and climb a secured ladder. If they slipped or fell, the line would lock and prevent a serious fall.

HSE’s investigation found that workers at the depot had not been issued with this kit or been trained to use it and most did not know the company had a special procedure for doing this work.

The court heard that despite the depot handling up to 15 accommodation unit movements a day, management at the depot did not ensure that workers were aware of the procedure and did not ensure that the work was only done by those trained, equipped and authorised.

HSE Inspector John Underwood said:

“This was a wholly avoidable incident which led to a tragic and totally unnecessary loss of life. It is completely inexcusable that the company had identified the risks, prepared an adequate procedure to manage the risk, and then failed to implement that procedure to protect their workers. Health and safety is not just about filling in forms or thinking about risk, it’s about taking action to prevent people being killed or injured while trying to do their job. I hope this case will be an example to other companies that not only must health and safety be taken seriously but also followed through.”

Last year more than 4,000 employees suffered major injuries after falling from height at work, and 21 workers in the construction industry died.