Building firm fined over lone worker’s trench death

29th December 2016

As reported by SHP online, a Borders-based building firm has been fined £30,000 after a lone worker died when he was crushed by falling soil in a collapsed trench.

George Wilson, 64, was carrying out drainage work with a mechanical excavator at Heriot Mill Farm, Heriot in August 2014, when a section of the trench he was excavating collapsed while he was in it. Mr Wilson suffered fatal injuries with the cause of death being given as traumatic asphyxia and chest injuries.

Mr Wilson’s wife reported him missing at 23:30 and two police officers made their way to the field where he had been working shortly after 01:00. The officers heard the noise of the excavator engine running.

Depute fiscal Gary Aitken said: “A large slab of wet clay-like soil, approximately 30 feet long, appeared to have collapsed from the side of the trench.”

The officer’s found Mr Wilson’s body trapped by the weight of the soil.

“Although his head was exposed his face was pressed against the opposite side of the trench,” Mr Aitken said.

“He was cold to touch and it was clear to the officers that he was dead.”

Safety failings

The company admitted:

  • failing to ensure a safe system of work was in place for carrying out drainage excavation works;
  • failing to ensure that the soils from the excavation were battened back to a safe angle; and
  • failing to ensure there was a clear communication policy with the employee in place while he was working alone.

Rodger Builders Ltd, of Station Road, Earlston pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

Sheriff Peter Paterson said an aggravating factor was that the risk was well known and readily identifiable.

However, he took into account the company’s safety record and working practices and from a starting point of £45,000, reduced the fine to £30,000 to be paid within two months.


Peter Gray QC said: “The company has an excellent safety record.

“It has no previous convictions or relevant enforcement action against them.

“It is of the greatest concern and remorse that on 11 August 2014, Mr Wilson, a valuable and popular employee lost his life during the course of his employment.”

Following the accident the company stopped carrying out agricultural drainage work.

A statement on behalf of the family said: “Although the outcome of this case can never make up for the loss of George, we hope that it will help to avoid such a tragedy blighting another family in the future.”

MPC Remediation, part of Lucion Services, work with developers, contractors and clients in the construction industry to overcome concerns over contaminated land issues.


Andy Wise, Managing Director of MPC Remediation, said:

“This was a terrible incident that demonstrates the risks associated with excavation and other types of ground works. In our work, when site sampling and analysis identifies the presence of contamination, rigorous remediation procedures are followed, not only to ensure the safe removal of any dangerous materials, but also to ensure that all works are carried out without risk to the personal health and safety of those involved.

“Where excavations are carried out, this involves the full planning and risk assessment associated with any works, and only then can the most appropriate method or technique be determined for any excavation or digging work that may be required.

“Those responsible for undertaking the work should have the appropriate equipment and ensure that proper supervision and guidance is given to drivers of mechanical excavators if they are used.

Any excavations should also be properly supported, stepped or battered back to prevent them collapsing  and backfilling needs to be undertaken carefully.”

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