Improper mobile phone use causes building site injury


In these pages we are accustomed to reporting on cases where employers are culpable of construction health & safety infringements of the law. Here is a (thankfully) rare case that shows that employees can be equally at fault, and will on occasion be prosecuted as a result.

This happened in December 2012, at a construction site just off Brickhill Street, Milton Keynes.

Gary Draper was operating an excavator vehicle, while another (unnamed) worker drove the site’s dumper truck, just beside him. Mr. Draper excavated material and dropped it into the truck so it could be removed to another part of the site.

The second driver had returned with the dumper truck and was waiting for the next load to be dumped.

Distracted driver causes accident

But Draper was using his mobile phone while he worked, and thus distracted, he was unaware of the other man’s return. So he rotated the upper excavator body and as a result the metal bucket hit the other driver on the side of the head.

The victim had his jaw broken in several places, and his lung was punctured and it collapsed. He spent 10 days in hospital and could not work for another 14 months. His jaw still requires more surgery to be carried out.

Unusually, because the HSE’s investigation found that the actions of Mr Draper were contrary to site rules, the company involved was not prosecuted. Clearly, Inspectors found that the rules were satisfactory and could not be faulted.

Compensation payable directly to victim

At Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court, Gary Draper, of Rushden, Northants, pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He must pay the injured worker £2,500 in compensation; and also HSE costs of £1,554.

The HSE’s comment compared the danger of these actions to those of a car owner who uses a mobile phone while driving. Construction machines can weigh 40 tonnes and are very powerful. Hence site drivers “need to be equally attentive and concentrate solely on the job at hand.” In this case the operator let himself be distracted and became “complacent about his responsibilities when operating his vehicle.

In addition to wishing the unfortunate second driver a full recovery, we must note that building safety practitioners often wish that the authorities would pay more attention to the follies of individuals, and focus on the required training and certification of workers for specific high-risk jobs. Normally, the principal contractor and subcontractors bear the brunt of HSE prosecution, fines (or even custodial sentences) and adverse publicity – even when a one-off infraction of company rules has been committed by one or more people.

Each case that comes to court involves a lengthy procedure, usually lasting a year or more, and often several. The costs and manpower diversion on both sides are significant drains on time and funds.

Specialist construction safety consultants McCormack Benson Health & Safety never forget that it is their client contractors that they represent; and their frequent engagement with HSE and other bodies means that they can effectively argue each client’s case and often produce workable solutions that both sides can agree upon.