Worker buried in construction site earth collapse


One of the most horrific nightmares that many people have is to be buried alive. That was the fate of a worker on a building site, due to construction safety failings – but thankfully, prompt action by a colleague saved his life.

The incident occurred on 8th June 2012, at Blake Hill Crescent, Lilliput, Poole (where the boss of the principal firm concerned also lived).

A basement formwork retaining wall in the basement of a property on the site was being examined: a 150 sq. metre, three-metre deep excavation had been dug but the other three sides were not supported by any retaining materials.
Kevin Richards (46) from Weymouth was the unlucky victim: the walls collapsed and he was hit from behind as the soil covered him.

Fortunately, a fellow-worker heard what was happening, and with his bare hands was able to remove enough soil to allow Mr. Richards to breathe.

Mr Richards’ injuries included a fractured left shoulder blade, collapsed lung, and a double break of his right leg, as well as two fractured ribs. He was hospitalised for over 4 weeks.

Principal Contractor held responsible

The HSE investigation that followed identified principal contractors Bluebay Properties Ltd to be at fault. In building health and safety terms, they had identified the risk of collapse but their chosen solution was to inspect the unsupported walls. This was clearly insufficient: as the Inspector said, “No ground can be relied upon to stand unsupported in any circumstances”.

Mr. Richards was actually engaged by a sub-contractor that was working on the basement part of the scheme:  but it was felt that the principal contractor bore the responsibility for the overall scheme design under CDM regulations.

The court heard that Mr Richards was carrying out final checks on the formwork that had been built to create a retaining wall, as part of the basement structure.  He became trapped in a narrow gap between the formwork and the excavation face, at the moment of the collapse – it came suddenly with no warning.

At Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court, Bluebay Properties Ltd of Poole pleaded guilty to the charge of breaching the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007. Their fine was set at £6,000, plus £4,000 in costs and (an unusual and small addition) a ‘victim surcharge’ of £120.

This was certainly a lucky escape but the lesson for contractors is that groundwork needs to be carried out with proper care taken to design in the appropriate level of safety. If you are carrying out a project that requires a CDM Coordinator, then do not be tempted to take a chance by using an insufficiently experienced or trained member of staff – the reasonable charge made by McCormack Benson Health & Safety is paid back many times over in terms of avoiding accidents and completing your project successfully.