Improper use of digger causes site injury


The invention of the mechanical digger was a great step forward for the building trades, and these machines have untold numbers of uses: but like any other device, they have restrictions in their use that must be strictly observed, or (as in this case) it can be dangerous and cause injuries or worse.

At the famous Longleat Estate public attraction in Warminster, the firm of RMC Building and Civil Engineering Ltd was engaged to erect new fencing around the border of the grounds. Work was going on in January 2014 and on the 16th, a team of 3 workers was engaged on the task of sinking posts into the ground.

The contractor had made a risk assessment, and had ordered a special post driver to carry out this task as per the written method statement. A small digger was also on order. But the assessment did not deal with the clear danger that stems from working close to a digger.

And crucially, rather than wait for the correct equipment to arrive, the firm allowed work to go ahead.

Thus it was that the team was working with a big digger and the men were using the bucket. Two men held each post and the digger operator had to accurately position the bucket on top of it, then press it down into the ground.

Man knocked over

Peter McGrellis (then 48) was one of the men who held the posts. On one of them, the post split at the top under the pressure of the digger. The bucket slipped off it, striking Mr. McGrellis on the shoulder. He was knocked to the ground by the impact.

He was taken to hospital and was there for more than a week due to injuries that included one broken vertebra in his back. Mr. McGrellis was in hospital for over a week and even now, a year later, he has to deal with the pain from the accident.

The inevitable HSE investigation followed and inspectors blamed the company for a failure to plan, manage and monitor the operation.

As a result, RMC Building & Civil Engineering Ltd. from Greenford, Middlesex, received a fine of £1,500 from Swindon Magistrates’ Court, plus costs of £1,117. The firm entered a plea of guilty to one breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998*.

Ian Whittles, the inspector at HSE, commented: “The use of excavator vehicles in such a manner is dangerous and is known to cause injury. The serious failure of RMC Building & Civil Engineering in not managing this job properly led to this avoidable incident and unfortunately Mr McGrellis suffered as a result. Workers have a right to expect that the equipment they use is appropriate for the task – on this occasion the equipment used was clearly not suitable for the job. Anyone in control of construction projects must ensure the work is properly planned and thoroughly risk-assessed to avoid such incidents.

* Regulation 4(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998:

“Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is used only for operations for which, and under conditions for which, it is suitable.” 

Tagged with: