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Tragic incident highlights simple safety failings

Tragic incident highlights simple safety failings

24 June 2011 Email this article

Companies fined after maintenance worker falls to his death at a South Wales power station. Energy giant, RWE npower and contractor AMEC Group Ltd must pay a total of £510,000.

The firms were sentenced over the incident that saw agency worker Christopher Booker from St Athan, fall around 12 metres through an unprotected opening in a platform at Aberthaw Power Station in the Vale of Glamorgan on the evening of Sunday 10th June 2007.

Cardiff Crown Court heard that work was being carried out to insert equipment into a large deep pit in the water cooling system to hold back the seawater when the tide rose. Sections of the floor gratings at the top of the pit had been removed to allow the work to proceed.

Mr Booker was working with eight other workers who had been called in to carry out urgent modification work on the equipment in order to ensure an effective seal of the pit.

As the natural light faded, electric lights were turned to face those doing the grinding work which left the top of the pit in near darkness. Mr Booker fell through the opening in the walkway to the floor below. He died of multiple injuries to his chest and pelvis.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that a large opening in the walkway was left unprotected after the floor gratings had been removed, and inadequate precautions had been taken to protect people working near it.

The investigation also identified that there was confusion and misunderstanding between RWE npower and principal contractor AMEC Group Ltd as to who was responsible for controlling the work at the time of Mr Booker's death.

RWE npower Plc, of Windmill Hill Business Park, Whitehill Way, Swindon, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Today at Cardiff Crown Court, they were fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £30,000 costs.

The principal contractors, AMEC Group Ltd, of Booths Park, Chelford Road, Knutsford, Cheshire, pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 11(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They were fined £200,000 with costs of £30,000.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Caroline Bird said:

"This tragic case highlights the consequences of failing to do something as simple as adding protection to an opening in a walkway.

"Inadequate planning and a poor choice of safety control measures meant that a very obvious hazard remained.

"Both companies had a duty of care to Mr Booker that they failed to meet - with catastrophic consequences. This awful incident could so easily have been prevented had the correct safety measures been taken.

"Employers have a duty to manage the risk of falls from height, including providing protection around the edge of openings. It is completely unacceptable this sort of risk was not managed."

All employers have a duty to assess risks in the workplace and put in place sensible health and safety measures to manage them. More information on risk assessment can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/.