Construction giant Laing O’Rourke has been fined £800,000 after one of its workers fatally crushed his own brother while operating a dumper truck without holding the necessary formal authorisation.
Southwark Crown Court heard 38-year-old Philip Griffths died when his brother Paul accidentally reversed the dumper into him while trying to tow away a broken down scissor lift machine during work at Heathrow Airport. Paul’s foot became struck between the dumper’s brake and accelerator pedal, causing it to shoot back quickly, crushing Philip between the two machines.
Laing O’Rourke Construction had been contracted to build a multi-storey car park for Heathrow’s Terminal 2, and the project was reaching the final ‘snagging’ phase. At the time of the incident, work was being carried out at night, and a subcontractor working for Laing O’Rourke was using a scissor lift to replace windows in the car park. As the night shift was coming to a close around 3.30am on 2 October 2014, the contractor was returning the scissor lift to a storage yard when it broke down on an airport service road used by vehicles to deliver goods to the terminal’s shops.
There were concerns Laing O’Rourke might face financial penalties from the airport for blocking the service road, and attempts were made to re-start the scissor lift. Electricians present on site attempted to get it working, and someone present suggested using a dumper truck to tow it away.
A qualified and authorised driver from another Laing O’Rourke team was asked to drive a dumper to the area but was feeling unwell. Instead, Philip Griffiths, who had arrived at the scene of the broken down scissor lift with his brother Paul, both of whom worked for another Laing O’Rourke company, went to the yard and drove the dumper back to the service road.
Philip Griffiths attached a strop between the scissor lift and dumper and Paul climbed into the dumper cab and tried to pull the scissor lift away. Philip, or someone else present, asked Paul to reverse back to create some slack on the strop but Paul’s foot became stuck between the brake and accelerator. The dumper reversed faster than expected, crushing Philip who was standing between the two machines.
The court heard a Laing O’Rourke site manager, who was present for some of the time workers were attempting to start or move the scissor lift, told the brothers to abandon their attempts but Paul said afterwards he had not heard the instruction.
After the case, HSE inspector Jack Wilby told Safety Management that neither of the Griffiths brother held a valid Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card for operating dumpers, despite Laing O’Rourke’s construction phase plan stating dumpers must only be operated by CPCS card holders. Although Paul had a CPCS card for dumpers, it had expired in 2004. He also did not have a driver’s license, although the service road was a public highway. Philip, meanwhile, had never held a CPCS card for dumpers, though he did have a driver’s license.
Wilby said: “Laing O’Rourke’s systems and procedures were very clear to say workers had to have the CPCS card for dumper truck operators, and they [Laing] had a system for checking this for each person. It recorded that Paul Griffiths had received the training but it had expired. So the company had that knowledge within their systems, but didn’t act on it.
“There was no system to flag up to Laing O’Rourke that the [CPCS] ticket had run out and that Paul should not have been driving a dumper.”
Wilby added the two brothers had also driven dumpers on other occasions while working for Laing O’Rourke.
The court also heard Laing O’Rourke failed to properly assess the risks from dealing with the broken down scissor lift and failed to properly oversee and plan the operation to move it.
“When doing work with vehicles there should be segregation,” said Wilby. “If you have anyone going in between vehicles you may not always be able to physically separate them so you need to consider management systems, such as traffic marshalls, and ensure that anyone going in between the machines is switching the machine off and putting on the handbrake, for example. Then, when people are out of the way you can start the machine and attempt whatever is required.
“There should have been someone managing that and there wasn’t.”
The inspector added: “Laing O’Rourke have a ‘Take 5’ system, which means if workers do not understand all the risks, they should stop and ‘Take 5’ to work out what they are doing.
“This is a perfect example of where they should have stopped and taken five minutes to plan what they were doing.”
The inspector added that Laing O’Rourke had since improved its procedures for recording and checking workers’ skills and training. Managers can now access a database of competencies and training records via smartphone, and the system flags up when training and competencies are expiring and re-training is required.
Laing O’Rourke Construction Limited of Dartford in Kent pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 22(1(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 by failing to plan, manage and monitor construction work to ensure it was carried out safely.
Before the sentencing hearing on 24 March 2017, HSE and Laing O’Rourke agreed on the culpability and harm categories for the offence after considering the sentencing guidelines. Culpability was agreed to be medium and the harm category was agreed to be one.
Under the guidelines, this provided a starting point fine of £1.3m with a range of £800,000 to £3.25m. The judge took account of mitigating factors such as Laing O’Rourke’s full cooperation with HSE's investigation and the company entering a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in December 2016. He set the fine at £800,000 and ordered the company to pay £10,000 costs.
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