Company directors fined after employee killed in workplace accident

hseTwo company directors have been heavily fined and given suspended sentences after a worker was killed in a workplace accident involving a dumper truck.

Mr Daniel Whiston, 20, was killed at Sweetings Farm near Tiverton in October 2009 after a four-tonne dumper truck over-turned on a bank and crushed him. Two directors of Wedgewood Building Limited, Mr Friend and Mr Plume, were subsequently found guilty of health and safety breaches and fined a combined total of £50,000, as well as being given suspended sentences and ordered to undertake community service.

Mr Whiston started work for Wedgewood Buildings Limited on 27 October 2009 as a labourer and was assigned to work on the expansion of a pond at Sweetings Farm. On the day in question Mr Whiston was put to work on a four-tonne dumper truck and told to excavate the pond and move spoil around the site. Whilst Mr Whiston was driving the dumper-truck he drove up a bank with a full load of spoil in the excavator and toppled down a 60 degree slope, falling out of the truck and being crushed to death.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) was notified of the accident and investigated. Their investigations found that there were a number of health and safety breaches by Wedgewood Buildings Limited including:

  • A failure to properly train Mr Whiston to undertake his duties;
  • A failure to ensure that a trained, competent teacher was teaching and supervising Mr Whiston;
  • That the dumper had a number of serious defects, including steering failure, defecting and inoperative front braking and a non-functioning handbrake with worn-out parts;
  • No suitable or sufficient risk assessments being undertaken;
  • No safe system of work being undertaken; and
  • That the causeway used by the dumper truck to transport material from the pond to the dump site was too narrow for the dumper

The HSE investigation recommended that the directors of Wedgewood Buildings Limited, Mr William Friend and Mr Robert Plume, be prosecuted for health and safety breaches.

The case came to the Exeter Crown Court on 22 December 2014 with both directors each pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Each director was given a suspended custodial sentence of 12 months, suspended from being company directors for two year, given 180 hours of community service (to be completed within a year), and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £25,000 each.

HSE inspector Mr Jonathan Harris stated after the sentencing: “Anyone in control of construction projects must ensure the work is properly planned and risk assessed to avoid similar tragedies in the future. Knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how it should be done safely.”

Marc Hadrill, a specialist personal injury solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Company directors – as well as companies – have duties under health and safety legislation to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of workers – the court found in this instance that the company and the company directors had not taken those steps.”