Death of telehandler driver at huge contractor firm


In a building site, it can be the case that even sophisticated equipment that formerly seemed perfectly suited for its purpose becomes suddenly inappropriate and even dangerous. This is such a case, which had tragic consequences.

A housing development called Parkway, in Newbury, was being constructed by giant contracting conglomerate Costain, the principal contractor on the project.

One among the team that was tiling roofs was Mark Williams (41). He was a telehandler operator, and on 20th July, 2011 he was lifting a pallet of tiles to a fourth floor roof. The space in which he was working was tight: with the telehandler’s boom down in its normal driving position he would have had no ability to turn, so he raised the boom, which shortened the working length but made the vehicle less stable.

As he turned it, the machine overbalanced and began to fall over. Mr. Williams tried to escape but could not get free quickly enough and he was killed by the machine falling on him.

Insufficient working space

The HSE’s investigation established that for this particular location the telehandler was unsuitable and should not have been used. There was not enough space for it to operate safely and there were also obstructions in its way.

The HSE principal inspector said:

This was a tragic and entirely preventable death. Mark Williams was required to use a telehandler that was wholly unsuited to the confined area he worked in. He had no option but to raise the boom so he could turn the vehicle, and in doing so he critically undermined the stability, resulting in the inevitable overturn. He should have been provided with alternative, more appropriate equipment and a better system of work. Costain had clear responsibilities to ensure that happened, but they failed to properly assess the risks and ultimately failed Mr Williams.

Mr. Williams’ mother added:

Mark was totally let down by the people he worked for and trusted.

Subcontractor acquitted

Mark Williams was actually employed by subcontractor Attley’s Roofing Ltd. of Banbury. That company was also prosecuted but was found not guilty: the principal contractor was in this case found to be solely responsible.

There were multiple hearings at Reading Court over an unusually long duration, and the outcome was that Costain Ltd from Maidenhead, received major fines totaling £525,000 plus a huge £90,577 in costs. The judge found that the company breached Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, as well as (in two respects) the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Regulation 3.

From a construction health and safety perspective, this case demonstrates that even the largest and best-equipped firms can fall short in terms of equipment and planning of operations.

It also once again underlines the need to adapt to changing circumstances as projects progress, and to alter the method statements based on an updated risk assessment. Principal contractors will be held responsible when things go wrong with work being carried out by their subcontractors: and the site management must be continuously alert for new risks as they appear.