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Two companies have been fined a total of £450,000 and ordered to pay costs after health and safety failures led to a maintenance worker falling to his death.
Christopher Booker, 49, was working at Aberthaw Power Station when the accident happened in 2007. The power station was undergoing renovations, including work on a deep pit in the water cooling system. This necessitated inserting equipment into the pit to prevent sea water from entering it during high tides while the work was in progress. Mr Booker and eight other workers were performing urgent modification work on the equipment to ensure that the pit was effectively sealed.
Sections of the floor grating at the top of the pit had been removed to allow easier access to it, leaving gaps in the walkway. As night fell, electric lights were turned toward the inside of the pit, where the modifications were being made, leaving the walkway above the pit in near darkness. Mr Booker fell through a gap in the walkway into the pit 12 metres below and died as a result of multiple injuries to his chest and pelvis.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducted an investigation and found that, following the removal of the floor gratings, a large opening had been left unprotected and inadequate precautions had been taken to protect those working near it. There was also ‘confusion and misunderstanding’ between RWE npower, which owned the power station, and AMEC Group Ltd., the principal contractor, over who was responsible for controlling the work being done at the time Mr Booker fell.
RWE npower pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £250,000. AMEC Group Ltd. pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and was fined £200,000. The two companies were also ordered to pay £30,000 each in costs.
HSE inspector Caroline Bird said, “Inadequate planning and a poor choice of safety control measures meant that a very obvious hazard remained. […] Both companies had a duty of care to Mr Booker that they failed to meet – with catastrophic consequences. This awful incident could so easily have been prevented had the correct safety measures been taken.”
Employers have a duty to assess risks to the health and safety of their workers, and to members of the public who may be affected by their business activities, and to take reasonable steps to remove or reduce those risks. Employers who fail to do so are likely to face prosecution and substantial fines, as well as civil claims for compensation, if an employee or visitor to their premises is injured.
Information on assessing and managing health and safety risks in the workplace can be found on the HSE’s website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/index.htm.
Contact Jeremy Walker, DFA Law’s head of litigation for advice on any health and safety law matter.