Firm fined £26,700 after worker was badly hurt while dismantling mast

A construction company has been fined more than £26,000 for breaching health and safety regulations when a worker was “catapulted” from a telehandler bucket and fell to the ground.

An ambulance was rushed to the former RAF base at Saxa Vord in Unst where workers at Ness Engineering Limited had been struggling to dismantle an aerial mast last August.

The man who fell, 22-year-old David Thomson, suffered serious injuries and was kept off work over two months.

A risk assessment document showed staff should have been protected by guarded ladders as they worked within the structure.

However Mr Thomson, who was working on the site with colleague Gary Work, found he was unable to reach a four-metre section of the mast. The two men decided to stand in the telehandler bucket to allow them to unbolt the metal piece.

They balanced it on the bucket, but as they were lowered down the metal slipped out.

Mr Thomson was caught by a section and was thrown out of the bucket.

He was rushed to hospital suffering from a fractured shoulder and spinal injuries which still cause pain.

At Lerwick Sheriff Court today the company admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff was maintained.

Gavin Callaghan, senior procurator fiscal depute, health and safety division, said the bucket had not been designed to carry people.

“The bucket attachment of the telehandler was not designed to transport people, and the course of action agreed was in direct contravention of the risk assessment.

“Although body harnesses were available on site, provided by the accused, these were not worn, and indeed would have been of no use in the bucket as there was nothing to attach them to.”

He said the company’s managing director, Ronnie Leslie, was present when the plan to use the bucket was discussed.

“He questioned whether this proposed course of action was wise, but did not prevent it from going ahead,” added Mr Callaghan.

“While they were approximately eight or nine feet from the ground, the piece of metal slipped out of the bucket.

“[It] caught the back shoulder area of David Thomson’s boiler suit, and he catapulted out of the bucket, falling to the ground.”

The court heard Mr Thomson suffered a compressive fracture to the vertebral body of an area near the bottom of the shoulder blades, a broken forearm, broken thumbs and multiple abrasions to the face and neck.

He was in hospital for five days, and was off work for nine weeks. Both of his arms were in plaster for a number of weeks.

An investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive the day immediately after the accident.

As well as finding the bucket was not designed for people, it pointed to Ness Engineering’s own risk assessment, which disclosed a thought-out process for carrying out the work safely.

“It was apparent however that the deviation from the stipulated procedure, in the presence of senior personnel, led to a loss of control of the situation,” added Mr Callaghan.

“The deviation from the safe system of work that was allowed to occur in this instance reveals a failure to ensure that such risk planning is followed through in work that is properly organised and supervised.”

Advocate James MacDonald said the company had since taken instructions from an independent health and safety consultant.

He said Mr Thomson was still employed by the company, insisting he remained “on good terms” with his employers as a valued member of staff.

“The company is determined to ensure a matter of this type does not happen again,” he said.

Sheriff Philip Mann fined the firm £26,700, reduced from a starting off point of £40,000 to reflect the early plea.

“The company is a first offender. The clear inference from that is that they have a good health and safety record. But I have to take a serious view of the offence, which could have resulted in death.”


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