HSE investigate trench collapse, company fined £14,000, Unite Union criticise low fine

A construction company in Scotland has been fined £14,000 for safety breaches, after one of its workers was seriously injured when a trench collapsed, burying him alive.

Julian Kilbane was part of a team using an excavator to dig a trench 2.7 metres deep. Mr Kilbane was down in the trench laying new drainage pipes, and helping to guide machinery. When they located a boulder that prevented further excavation, the team used the digger to try and move it.

One of the trench walls collapsed, burying Mr Kilbane in soil. His colleagues immediately dug the soil away from his head so that he could breathe. He sustained multiple injuries, including punctured lungs and broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and shoulder. He was hospitalised for almost 3 weeks and has since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The HSE investigation found that none of the workers had formal health and safety training to manage a construction site, and there had been no risk assessment of the excavation work. Workers were given verbal instructions, rather than being briefed using detailed mapped out plans. Not only that, the trench had not been supported to control the risk of it collapsing.

The fine of £14,000 has been criticised by the Unite Union, whose opinion is that it is an insufficient sum, considering the suffering that Mr Kilbane and his family have endured so far. In their view, the fine does not send a strong enough message about the paramount importance of health and safety at work.

IOSH Magazine article 16 May 2017