Building firm fined £2.3 million over failings that led to worker drowning in river

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A construction firm has been fined more than £2 million after a worker drowned in a river when the boat that he was using to help remove debris from the bottom of a weir capsized.

Gary Webster, aged 60, died two days after falling into the River Aire in Yorkshire on 30 October 2017. He and another worker had been clearing debris from the bottom of the weir gates at Knostrup Weir, when the boat they were in capsized after being dragged into turbulent water flowing over the top of the weir.

Gary Webster had been clearing debris from the bottom of the weir gates at Knostrop Weir when the boat he was on capsized. Photograph: iStock/Philip Silverman

The other worker swam to safety, but Mr Webster was repeatedly pulled under the water. He was recovered 14 minutes later by a diver but was pronounced dead on 1 November 2017 at Leeds General Infirmary.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident, said that Mr Webster’s employer, Surrey-based BAM Nuttall Ltd, had operatives who were trained and authorised to slow down the flow of water over the weir by controlling the gates. However, the company had “failed” to carry this out.

HSE inspector Jayne Towey said the construction company had “failed to plan the work, failed to carry out any assessment of the risks involved with the task, and failed to have any regard to the recognised hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk associated with removing debris from the water”. It had also failed to put in place a safe system of work.

BAM Nuttall pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £2.3 million and ordered to pay more than £25,000 in costs at Leeds Magistrates’ Court on 12 June.

The fine comes a week after telecoms company OpenReach was fined £1.3 million over the death of an engineer, who was also swept away by a flooded river while working.