Kier had been appointed principal contractor on a Network Rail project, which involved replacing two bridges in South Wales as part of the Great Western electrification programme. The two bridges -- Maerdy Bridge and Cuckoo Road Bridge -- had to be replaced to create additional clearance to accommodate overhead line equipment. The new bridges were made of precast concrete units, each weighing around 6.93 tonnes.
Newport Magistrates' Court was told on 17 July that 42-year-old agency worker Peter Walker, who was employed by First Solutions, had been contracted to work on the Maerdy Bridge site near Cardiff and had started a few days before the incident happened on 15 August 2016.
The court heard that each L-shaped concrete unit had four embedded anchor points, with two at the top and two at the bottom. A "slinger" (or signaller) would attach lifting chains to the anchor points using lifting clutches which allow for quick disengagement of the chains. The chains would then be connected to an excavator boom.
As the slinger, Walker was tasked with attaching the bottom chains to the unit and then climbing a ladder to around 3 m to fix the top ones. He would then move to a position of safety and signal to the excavator operator Vernon Orchard that it was safe to "track" (move while lifting the units) the block to the new location.
The L-shaped block would be placed on the ground, standing on its shorter side. Walker would then remove the lifting clutches, two on the ground and two using the ladder. He would then signal from the ladder to the operator to "pinch up", lifting the boom slowly so that the chains were not attached or entangled.
On the day of the accident, the ORR found that the units were being relocated but there were no daily briefs or task briefs for moving them. While moving one of the units, Walker climbed the ladder to remove the lifting clutches from the anchors. However, the ORR told IOSH Magazine that one of the lifting chains at the bottom was only partially detached.
Walker was on the ladder when the unit began to fall and although he moved to the side, his lower leg was caught between the falling unit and the one behind, causing serious injuries. The ORR investigation found the unit's toppling had potentially fatal consequences, which were only narrowly avoided by Walker's evasive action.
The ORR found that a variety of factors led to the block toppling but identified Kier's failure to provide adequate supervision as the most important. Walker's injury was sustained because he was not standing in a position of safety when the unit fell. The ORR said that a supervisor would have noted this unsafe practice of work and intervened to ensure it did not continue. However, the investigation found that on 15 August no one from Kier accepted responsibility for being the designated supervisor on site.
The regulator also found the excavator was moving with the load in place. However, the lifting plan expressly prohibited tracking while there was an operator in the lifting zone. Had a supervisor been in place, they would have intervened and required that the work remained in line with the lifting plan.
Also, Walker's use of the ladder was not permitted by the work package plan (WPP) and had not been risk assessed. No ladder permit had been issued on the day and, the ladder was only authorised for use because there was no available platform. The ladder was positioned against the face of the unit to access the lifting anchor, but this meant that the direction of the unit's fall was towards the ladder.
ORR argued that Kier had failed to provide adequate information to Walker and Orchard in how the task should be completed safely. Both stated that they were only shown the first page of the lifting plan and were not shown either the task briefing or the WPP. They were instructed to move the units but were provided with no guidance on how the move should be carried out.
Kier Infrastructure and Overseas had pleaded guilty to breaching s 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Newport Magistrates' Court on 2 July. District Judge Brown also imposed £25,768 costs (see below for how the sentencing guidelines were applied).
A Kier spokesperson told IOSH Magazine: "We acknowledge and accept the sentencing decision of the court and regret that on this occasion our usual high standards of safety were not met. As a business, Kier's number one priority is to operate safely and sustainably and this means we continually assess and review all of our safety procedures and work collaboratively with our supply chain and partners to strive for continual improvement and adopt new approaches to safety."
Sentencing guidelines application
Lower end of high or higher end of medium
Seriousness of harm risked:
Likelihood of harm:
Size of organisation:
Large with an uplift within the range to reflect the size of the company
Starting point for fine:
Full credit for guilty plea given plus downward adjustment for steps three and four