£100k fine following worker’s death

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- Credit: Archant

A PORTISHEAD plant hire firm which took ‘dangerous shortcuts’ has been fined £100,000 after one of its workers was fatally injured by a piece of machinery.

Stuart Guard died after becoming entangled in a cutting wheel of a machine designed to remove the top layers of tarmac on roads.

The incident happened in July 2009 at a site in Box, Wiltshire, where trenches for new gas pipes were being dug and it was subsequently investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

On Friday, Direct Plant Services of Old Mill Road, Portishead, which was trading as South and West Highways Trenching at the time, appeared at Swindon Crown Court to plead guilty to breaching health and safety and use of work equipment regulations on four occasions.

The court heard that a safety switch under the machine operator’s seat which would stop the engine and cutting wheel when the seat was vacated had been deliberately disabled. The HSE also found the safety switches on all three top cutters owned by the firm had been bypassed.


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The HSE investigation found it was common practice for trench machine operators to check and change the machine’s picks during and at the end of each job.

Although the firm recognised checking the picks was a two-man job, it routinely hired out the top cutter with only one worker. Checking the picks by a sole operator was quicker if the worker could leave his seat and observe the slowly rotating raised wheel.

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At the time of his death, Stuart Guard was 28 and was due to marry his fiancé the following May. The former Gordano School pupil had lived in Nailsea, Clevedon and Portishead before moving to Gloucester about a year before the incident.

Speaking after the prosecution, which saw the company fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £56,890 in costs, HSE inspector Helena Tinton said: “South and West Highways Trenching paid scant regard to the welfare of its employees and took dangerous shortcuts in its attitude toward safety. The company’s safety failings had disastrous consequences for Mr Guard.

“The top cutter is a powerful machine, designed to cut through tarmac. They are fitted with safety switches for a very good reason – to prevent operators getting too close to rotating cutting wheels.”

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