Farm worker dies from DIY construction safety shortcomings


Although we often sadly have to report upon the health & safety errors of building contractors, the fact remains that they are (or should be) the professionals when it comes to carrying out construction works. If you could catalogue the number of unrecorded accidents that result from do-it-yourself building and maintenance, the official death and injury figures would soar.

In fact, the agricultural sector is prone to many accidents and is very hard for the HSE to police, such is the rural and hidden nature of much of its work. This is a case where a man tragically lost his life due to an ill-planned agricultural DIY construction attempt.

Cattle shed assembly done in-house

Yew Tree Farm in Stanthorne is a dairy farm, and it needed a new cattle shed. This was being constructed in December 2010 and was to be walled with prefabricated concrete panels. The farm owners, T Lea Sherwin Ltd, decided to build it themselves using farm workers. One of these was Sean Bennett (30) from Winsford, Cheshire.

Each panel measured 6 metres x 1 metre and weighed 1½ tonnes. The method chosen to manoeuvre the panels was to use a telehandler owned by the farm, which would lift each panel from the ground using chains attached to bolts in the panels. Mr. Bennett was supposed to assist the movement of the panels.

As a panel was being raised, the bolts broke, releasing the lifting chain. The panel fell on top of Mr Bennett. He was taken to hospital where he died two days after the accident.

 Inadequate equipment, no planning

As the HSE inspector who investigated the scene, Jane Carroll, reported:

“The project was poorly planned, and the lifting equipment provided wasn’t capable of raising concrete panels weighing 1.5 tonnes. It was therefore inevitable that the bolts would snap when the panel was being lifted.

She also commented on the lack of foresight on the part of the firm, whose skills lay in dairy farming and who should have restricted themselves to that activity. Instead they tried to carry out work that required the skills and equipment possessed by proper building contractors.

Hefty fine for owners

Liverpool Crown Court inevitably inflicted a heavy penalty on T Lea Sherwin Ltd, fining them £50,000 as well as £28,585 of HSE prosecution costs. Their plea was that they were guilty of a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; Section 3(1) of which deals with the employer’s responsibility not to expose people to risk.

Of course, the far greater burden was that placed upon the deceased’s grieving relatives and friends. Mr. Bennett’s mother said that the whole family was close-knit, and they were devastated by his death.

As we in our role as building safety consultants know only too well, specialist contractors are not immune to errors in their work: but the vast majority would at least carry out a risk assessment and set out a planned safe system of working through a method statement. Such measures were completely absent in this case.

If the form had acknowledged that it did not know how to carry out this building work safely and correctly, it would have avoided being responsible for cutting short a young man’s life.