Wall collapse deaths lead to fines

Conduct fell far below that expected of competent engineer

Engineer, Barry Potts and contractor Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) Limited have been fined after being fined (14 February) for health and safety offences following the death of two men in October 2010.

The sentencing took place at Ipswich Crown Court in relation to the deaths on a building site in Suffolk where Kevin Ruffles and Matthew Skeet died as a consequence of a wall collapsing.

This incident was investigated by the Joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team, working closely with HSE.

In June 2013 Barry Potts was summonsed to court for two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence and one offence under the health and safety act, and legal representatives for the building company were issued a summons for two offences under the health and safety act.

The CPS had alleged that Mr Potts gave Matthew Skeet and Kevin Ruffles permission to dig a trench under part of the wall, which weakened the foundations and led the wall to collapse.

Guilty pleas entered regarding H&S offences

At a hearing at Southwark Crown Court on Monday 16 December guilty pleas were offered on behalf of Barry Potts and Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) Limited in relation to the health and safety breaches.

On 14th February Barry Potts was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5000 towards prosecution costs and Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) Limited, were fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £15,000 costs.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Smith who led this enquiry said:

“This was a tragic incident in which two men lost their lives. It has taken over three years to achieve the sentencing outcome today and I am conscious that this has caused additional heartache for Kevin and Matthew’s families.

I would stress that the investigation into how the wall collapsed and the surrounding circumstances has been very complex and demanding for a number of reasons.

After the wall collapse, the Malting’s building needed to be made safe, before structural engineering experts and investigators could properly examine the site.

During our investigation, over 200 witness statements were obtained, a number of key personnel were formally interviewed and large quantities of associated material needed to be reviewed in order that we could present detailed evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In passing sentence Mr Justice Singh, has recognised that both Barry Potts and Elliston Steady and Hawes (Building) Limited committed serious breaches of health and safety regulations.

In the case of Potts it was confirmed that the evidence demonstrated his conduct fell far below that which could be expected of a competent engineer.

He failed to inspect and test the foundations underpinning the wall and gave advice to Kevin Ruffles which was grossly negligent.

Unfortunately, at the time this incident occurred, Elliston Steady and Hawes (building) Limited were not managing the Malting’s building project as they should have been. They missed an opportunity to challenge Potts’ negligent advice, they failed to secure written method statements and did not appoint a temporary works co-ordinator.

I know that the sentences passed today will provide little comfort for Matthew and Kevin’s families and our thoughts remain with them at this time.

I hope that in some way this case and today’s outcome will act as a stark reminder to the construction industry of the ever-present dangers in their work and the fatal consequences of failing to implement appropriate health and safety measures.

I would wish to thank the Health and Safety Executive, the Crown Prosecution Service and prosecution counsel with whom we have worked closely over an extended period of time.”

Walls must be supported so they do not become unstable

Investigating Health and Safety Executive Inspector Lesley Balkham said:

“This was an entirely preventable incident that resulted in the tragic deaths of two people working on a construction site. There were basic failings in the way the work was planned and managed.

Those working in construction, especially contractors and designers, need to make sure that construction work is planned and carried out safely. Structures such as walls and excavations must be supported during construction work so they do not become unstable and liable to collapse.”

Source HSE

February 19, 2014 | Categories: News |
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