New worker dies after inadequate dumper truck training


Whenever workers are required to operate dangerous machinery such as trucks, they must be properly trained by people certified to do so. In this case a young worker had literally just begun work and he was killed in an accident that should have been avoided had the right procedures been followed.

This was a construction safety issue because it involved contractor Wedgewood Buildings Ltd. which had the job of enlarging a pond at Sweetings Farm, near Tiverton, Devon. The case has taken over 5 years to come to court because the incident happened on 27th October, 2009.

The job involved excavation and the moving of the spoil material away from the pond, using a dumper truck. There were just two workers on site, one of whom had to operate the excavator to dig out the mud and fill the 4-tonne dumper truck. He was required to give some instruction to the other worker, Daniel Whiston (20), who had only started work on the fateful day.

Truck rolled down bank

Mr. Whiston had been given just 30 minutes of training in driving and operating the dumper truck before he began to use it. That afternoon, he was driving the dumper with a full load and the vehicle veered off a causeway and rolled down a 60-degree bank, crushing the driver underneath it.

There were several serious issues that emerged from the subsequent investigation. In terms of the management aspects, these included:

  • Although more experienced, the surviving operator was nevertheless unqualified to drive the dumper truck, let alone give instruction to the new recruit
  • The instruction given did not meet the basic or advanced training requirements as set out in the Construction Plant Competence Scheme
  • There was no supervision of the two under-qualified workers
  • Risk assessments were inadequate and there was no safe system of work in operation

And then there were the issues that emerged in terms of the condition of the dumper truck. This was defective in three crucial respects:

  1. The steering failed
  2. The front brakes were defective and partly inoperative
  3. The handbrake did not work due to worn components

Finally, and possibly most lethally, there was the fact that the causeway that the front-tipping dumper had to traverse was actually too narrow for safe operation, whereby it could be properly stopped to tip its load safely down the side of the embankment.

The case brought by HSE was finally heard at Exeter Crown Court in December 2014. It was against the two directors of Wedgewood Buildings Ltd.: Robert Plume and William Friend. Both men admitted a breach of Health and Safety law. Unusually, and in view of the fatal nature of this case, they were not specifically fined (although each had £25,000 in costs to pay): instead they received custodial sentences of 12 months, suspended for two years, and they must carry out 180 hours of community service within one year.

It is to be hoped that as we enter 2015, and with the death and injury toll steadily declining in the building trades, we will hear of less of such tragic cases as this 2009 one, where there was a clear and unforgivable failure to manage construction safety and to provide proper training and safe machinery to the workers.