Engineer in court after worker crushed to death on pier

An engineering boss has been sentenced after an employee was crushed to death on a pier in Orkney.

Welder and fabricator Christopher Hartley, 45, from Thurso, died after being struck by a moving excavator and crushed between its bucket and a fixed cabinet at the end of Longhope Pier in Hoy on 13 November 2012.

Kirkwall Sheriff Court was told (25 Mar) that Mr Hartley was working for William George Sinclair Reid who trades as E&M Engineering Services in Scrabster, Caithness.

Mr Reid was contracted to replace the fenders on the RNLI’s pontoon at the pier and together with two other men, he and Mr Hartley were unloading steel and aluminium panels from a flatbed van onto the pier using an excavator.

Mr Reid was in the van and Mr Hartley and another man attached chains to the panels so they could be lifted and all three directed the excavator operator to say where he could move.

After the last panel was lowered, the excavator operator heard Mr Reid shout that Mr Hartley was lying face down on the floor near to the hose cabinet and was unresponsive. The emergency services were called but Mr Hartley was declared dead at the scene.

The court heard that although there were no witnesses, all the evidence indicated the most likely scenario was that Mr Hartley was struck by the moving excavator and momentarily crushed between the excavator bucket and the fixed water cabinet.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although Mr Reid had carried out an assessment of the risks involved in the task, he had not identified mechanical lifting as a hazard and the risks associated with using an excavator. Therefore, reasonable precautions were not put in place to reduce the risk of a person being hit by the moving load or excavator.

At the time of the incident it was beginning to get dark. Mr Hartley and another worker had taken off their hi-vis clothing thinking they would break for tea, but decided at the last minute to do the unloading instead before going. As a result the job started and neither had put their hi-vis jackets back on.

Lighting was from a single high-level light at the end of the pier and the two lights on the excavator. Even with the excavator’s lights on, the area to the front of it would be within the shadow cast by the machine itself. Vision from the driver’s seat was also obstructed by the cab pillar and excavator boom and load.

HSE concluded that given the lack of precautions in place, it was entirely foreseeable an incident might occur. Mr Reid should have planned and controlled the task to ensure a strictly-enforced exclusion zone was set-up during all excavator manoeuvring and lifting operations and that all personnel involved were wearing appropriate hi-vis clothing, particularly given the work was being undertaken in the dark.

William George Sinclair Reid, 64, of Holborn Place, Scrabster, Caithness, was fined £12,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 8 of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.

Following the case an HSE inspector said:

“This tragic incident could have been avoided had the work been properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner.
“All lifting operations are considered potentially hazardous and regulations are in place to ensure measures are taken to control the risks. Where an excavator is being used, visibility for the operator should be maximised by removing the bucket and by all operatives wearing high visibility clothing.
“When an excavator is used for lifting, workers need to be close to the boom in order to sling the load and attach it to the excavator. This puts them in the hazardous area where if the machine swings they can be hit by the load, boom or bucket or crushed against a fixed object as in this case.
“These risks are well recognised within the construction industry but sadly, Mr Reid’s failure to assess them properly when planning this job ended in tragedy.”