Firm fined £32,500 for failing to keep employee safe at work

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A LOCAL construction company has been fined £32,500 by the Royal Court, after an employee tipped over a five-tonne digger in St Brelade and narrowly missed hitting a bollard which could have killed him.

Hacquoil and Cook pleaded guilty in February this year to two counts of breaching health and safety legislation, by failing to maintain a ‘safe system of work’ for an employee who was tasked with loading stone slabs with the excavator.

The company had not sufficiently checked whether their employee had up-to-date certification or was competent to lift slabs with the machine, the court heard.

The incident, which took place at a property near to Winston Churchill Park, St Brelade, in February last year, involved the excavation of two separate loads of pallets, each weighing three quarters of a tonne, which caused the excavator to tip and nearly injure the employee. CCTV of the incident was shown in court.

It was noted by the site manager that the arm of the excavator was over-extended, which contributed to the collapse of the machine, the court heard. While nobody was injured, the employee involved was signed off from work for one week with stress and shock.

Advocate Luke Sette, prosecuting, said: ‘No training had been provided by the company, no formal assessment of using the excavator had been carried out.’

He added that the employee had not informed the company that he wasn’t qualified to perform the action and that the employee had said he was ‘just trying to do my best’.

‘He [the employee] was verbally told what needed to be done,’ Advocate Sette added. ‘The site manager had cause to mention to keep the load [of slabs] closer to the cab and to retract the arm [of the excavator] as he felt that it was extended.

‘The general public was not exposed to risk, the risk of slabs falling into Winston Churchill Park was a minute one,’ said Advocate Sette.

A fine of £25,000 was recommended to the court by the advocate, which the defence labelled as ‘not unreasonable’.

Meanwhile, Advocate Christina Hall, defending, said her client ‘has suffered reputational damage which is significant for a company of this nature’.

The court heard that Hacquoil and Cook had a company turnover of £14 million last year.

Advocate Hall argued that when it came to health and safety practices other companies ‘look up to’ Hacquoil and Cook.

The advocate said that there was ‘no suggestion’ that the employee was ‘to blame’ for the incident and that the construction company had fallen ‘just below the standard’ required.

‘Employees not trained in excavating should take a course, training is recommended to take place every two to three years,’ said Advocate Hall.

The court heard that the employee had taken a course in excavation with a previous employer.

‘This certificate was from 2018, it was coming up to four years at the time of the incident. For whatever reason, the site manager didn’t recognise that it needed to be refreshed,’ said Advocate Hall.

Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae, presiding, said: ‘The seriousness of harm that was risked was high. This was a case where there was a risk of death or serious physical or mental impediment [to the employee].

‘A metal bollard penetrated the gap of the open cab door and narrowly missed [the employee], the granite slabs fell which exposed the public to risks.

‘The training supplied to [the employee] did not include lifting training, the defendant failed to provide [the employee] with relevant lifting training.

‘[The employee] was not competent to carry the lifts in the excavator, the company was responsible for ensuring such competency.’

The Deputy Bailiff also noted that risk of harm caused to the public was low, as a result of the incident.

Issuing the financial penalty, the Deputy Bailiff fined Hacquoil and Cook £32,500 and an additional £5,000 to be paid to the prosecution. Jurats Jane Ronge and Charles Blampied were presiding.

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