A company director has been sentenced following the death of a young worker, who died on his second day at work, after a trench collapsed in on him. Despite the effort of rescuers who dug for 15 minutes to free him, 24-year-old Callum Osborne died of traumatic asphyxia at the scene.
Wayne Cooper, 40, director of Coopers Services Limited, a now-dissolved company, appeared at Canterbury Crown Court for sentencing following an HSE investigation into the incident in Swalecliffe, Whitstable in April 2011. He was given two years to pay his fine of £75,000 or face 18 months in prison.
An inspector from HSE said that it was “unlawful and highly dangerous” for Mr Cooper to allow the work to proceed.
Following an earlier inquest which ruled the death as accidental, the HSE investigation looked further into the case; however Mr Cooper refused to answer any questions about safeguards taken at the site, simply responding “no comment”.
In court it was heard how Mr Osborne, whose partner was eight months pregnant at the time, had been working for Cooper Services Ltd and Mr Cooper for just two days when the incident occurred.
The company had been employed by a domestic client to connect new build bungalows to mains drainage, water and gas supplies.
Access to the site was along a narrow driveway and Wayne Cooper started the work on 29 March to dig a trench for gas and water which was back filled by 1 April.
Unknown-1Work was then started on the drainage – a few feet from the previously dug trench and by 4 April a manhole chamber was prepared at the entrance to the drive. This work was done by Coopers Services Ltd workers and over the next two days manholes and trenches were prepared around the bungalows.
On 7 April, Mr Osborne was acting as a banksman and taking measurements of trench depth while a colleague was digging the main trench down the centre of the driveway for the drainage pipes and banking soil either side of the trench.
Wayne Cooper arrived on site late morning and took over operation of the digger. At around 12.30pm there was a delivery of shingle, then shouting was heard and it became apparent Mr Osborne had been buried in the trench in front of the digger.
Mr Cooper said: “Callum was there, I could just see his head, and then I just panicked, screaming for help and started digging, just to try and save him.
“I tried my hardest and screamed and tried to get Callum out. I started to dig with my hands.”
He said he had also used a spade.
“I was using just anything to try and get him out.”
Emergency services attempted to save Mr Osborne but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
At the earlier inquest it was heard how the workers had previously been using a piece of wood laid across the trench, to lower pipes into it. Some pipes had been laid but towards the end the pipes were out of the ground.
Mr Cooper said a laser level had been used to establish the trench gradient and Mr Osborne had been checking it as they worked their way down, using a staff and receiver, picking up a signal from a laser on a tripod.
He had been putting the staff in the trench to do this by holding his arm out and touching the bottom.
The HSE investigation found that the drive was about three metres wide. The material excavated from the trench had been piled up alongside each side of the trench which had no means of support to prevent collapse and no barriers or edge protection to prevent falls into the trench.
Wayne Peter Cooper, 40, director of Coopers Services Limited (Coopers Services Ltd is now dissolved) of Watchester Farm Cottages, Ramsgate, Kent pleaded guilty to breaches of regulation 31 (1) (a, b and c) and 31 (2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.
He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. He was also fined £75,000. If the fine is not paid within two years, Mr Cooper faces 18 months imprisonment. Prosecution costs of £25,000 were awarded against him.
HSE inspector, Melvyn Stancliffe said after the case: “HSE’s sympathies are extended to the family of Callum Osborne, a young man whose life lay ahead of him.
“This was a totally preventable accident. Mr Cooper was an experienced ground worker and knew the way he was allowing the work to proceed was unlawful and highly dangerous.
“This incident happened because of Mr Cooper’s failure to plan and manage the job properly. Had Mr Cooper taken measures to prevent a trench collapse at the planning stage or on the day of the incident, Callum’s family would not have to endure the heartbreak of losing someone so dear to them.
“This was only Callum’s second day working for Mr Cooper. He would still be alive today had well established working practices been followed.”
Speaking to SHP Mr Stancliffe added: “It’s not cutting edge stuff. The driveway was three metres wide and at the deepest point the trench was 1.9m. The trench was stacked with the material they had dug out. The risk was an obvious one.”
Speaking to SHP, Callum’s mother Karen Hodgson, said: “Every person has the right to go to work and return home at the end of the day. Callum did not return home that day because of the unsafe environment he was asked to work in.”