Triple Prosecution After Excavator Death

A foreman died after an excavator bucket full of concrete fell on him at a London construction site, resulting in fines totaling £18,700.

Gerry Fox, the general foreman of Euro Earthworks Ltd, was crushed by an excavator bucket that fell from the arm of a colleague’s 12 tonne excavator.

Following the August 2007 incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Hydro Plant Ltd, the plant hire company that provided the excavator, and Michael Cunningham, the excavator operator, for safety violations.

Euro Earthworks Ltd, based in Hounslow and Mr Cunningham’s employer, also faces charges but has gone into administration and did not appear in court.

On 28 August 2007, Mr Cunningham, who now lives in Eastbourne, failed to manually insert a pin into the ‘quick hitch’ (a device attached to the excavator arm used for rapid attachment changes), which was required to safely lock the bucket in place, according to City of London Magistrates’ Court.

According to the HSE investigation, Mr Cunningham failed to take reasonable care for the health and safety of his coworkers by positioning the bucket, which was filled with concrete, directly over Mr Fox and site supervisor Tim McCarthy, who narrowly avoided being hit by the bucket.

The court heard that Hydro Plant Ltd did not have a suitable inspection regime in place for the plant it rented out to ensure that safety standards were met. It also provided the equipment with insufficient safety warning signs, written information and instructions, or CE marking.

Euro Earthworks Ltd failed to adequately plan, manage, and monitor the construction work, while Hydro Plant Ltd failed to maintain the quick hitch and all attachments supplied with the excavator in an efficient, working order, and in good repair.

Magistrates were also told that in March 2007, the HSE issued guidance on the safe use of quick hitches on excavators. Euro Earthworks Ltd was aware of this advice and had revised its written risk assessment, but it still did not take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the incident.

“This tragic incident was entirely preventable,” said HSE Inspector Loraine Charles. There had already been a significant number of incidents where buckets had become detached from quick hitches, particularly semi-automatic quick hitches where operators had failed to insert the safety pin.

“Mr Cunningham had no doubt that he should not have operated the excavator without the quick hitch’s safety pin in place, and he should not have moved the bucket over people.” As the hirers of the work equipment, Hydro Plant Ltd should have clearly paid much closer attention to the requirements imposed by health and safety law to ensure that the equipment was safe to use.

Hydro Plant Ltd, of Wadsworth Close, Greenford, Brent, pleaded guilty to violating Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. The company was fined £7,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 in costs.

Michael Denis Cunningham, of Latimer Road, Eastbourne, admitted to violating Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was fined £700 and ordered to pay £1,000 in costs.

Euro Earthworks Ltd, of Boston Manor, Brentford, Hounslow, has been charged with violating Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. On 7 July 2011, Euro Earthworks Ltd will be tried in its absence at the City of London Magistrates’ Court.

Last Updated on December 30, 2021

Indra-Gupta

Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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