A County Durham man has been jailed and a Tyneside firm and one of its directors fined after a demolition worker fell to his death from a cherry picker that was knocked over by a falling roof beam.
Ken Joyce, 53, of Lanchester, County Durham, was working for Allan Turnbull, trading as A&H Site Line Boring and Machining, when the incident happened on 2 December 2008. He was dismantling the structural steelwork of the roof of the Burning Hall at the Swan Hunter Shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle.
During a four-week trial at Newcastle Crown Court, a jury heard how Mr Joyce was working from one cherry picker while two colleagues were working from another cherry picker and a crane. They were dismantling the structure and were using a crane to lower the steel beams to the ground.
While removing a beam brace connecting two plate girders, one of the plate girders struck the basket of the cherry picker in which Mr Joyce was standing, knocking the equipment over.
Mr Joyce fell to the ground below and suffered serious head injuries. He was pronounced dead soon after.
A joint investigation carried out by Northumbria Police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC) had sub-contracted the dismantling work to Allan Turnbull.
The jury was told that NEMOC and its director Christopher William Taylor failed to ensure the safety of its employees and sub-contracted workers by neglecting to check that Mr Turnbull had the necessary competence to carry out the work.
The police and HSE investigation also found that Allan Turnbull had failed to adequately plan the work after identifying a lack of suitable and sufficient lifting plans to ensure a safe system of work was in place for the dismantling of the structural steelwork.
Allan Turnbull, 61, of Boundary Cottages Farm, Inkerman, Tow Law, County Durham, was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter following the trial. He had earlier pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) by virtue of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd (NEMOC), which had been operating from the Swan Hunter Yard, was fined £1 for each offence after it was found guilty in absence of breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company is now in liquidation.
Christopher William Taylor, 51, of North Cottage, Adderstone Crescent, Newcastle, was found guilty of breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) by virtue of Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was fined a total of £30,000 (£15,000 for each offence) and ordered to pay £50,000 costs.
After the case, which was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, HSE Inspector Emma Scott, said:
“This was a tragedy that could easily have been prevented had a safe system of work been in place.
“Instead Ken Joyce lost his life as a result of collective failures which included not preparing in advance a detailed plan of how the work should be carried out and no lifting plans to ensure the safe removal of the beams.
“Allan Turnbull was also prosecuted in November 2005 after an employee sustained serious leg injuries while dismantling a redundant brick manufacturing plant.
“I hope other companies can learn from this and ensure they take the necessary action to deal with the high risk involved with work of this nature.”
Chief Inspector Mark Anastasi, of Northumbria Police, said:
“This is a tragic case. Ken left home to go to work and never returned. He left behind his partner Eva and his family who never saw him again. They have been very supportive of the investigation and have shown their love for Ken throughout.
“Swan Hunter shipyard formed a major part of the local community and sadly, at the end of an era, during the dismantling process Ken lost his life as a result of the mismanagement of the work. The failures from both the individuals and the company showed a total disregard for safe working practices.
“Ken’s employer failed to improve his work following a similar incident in 2005, yet he continued to perform dismantling work.
“This complex and lengthy enquiry has shown that Northumbria Police and the HSE, with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, will work in partnership to ensure offenders are brought to justice.”
In a statement, Mr Joyce’s family said:
“As his family, we are striving to honour Kenneth’s memory and are still coming to terms with the void his absence has left in our lives over the past four years.
“Above all else we have hoped for justice for him and for the intensity of the sadness and grief created by his untimely passing, to ease and lessen with the aid of this justice, along with the healing passage of time.”
LST Comment: It is sad to continually have to include in our newsletters stories of people dying on construction sites along with the aftermath events and court findings. These are all highly unfortunate; nobody would choose to be in the situation where they endangered others. However, by failing to plan any work event, then we plan to fail. Health and Safety laws place clear duties on employers and employee, which are reasonable to follow and aim to keep all concerned safe.