Euro Earthworks general foreman, Gerry Fox, was crushed by an excavator bucket when it fell from the arm of the 12-tonne excavator being driven by a colleague.
The HSE prosecuted plant hire company Hydro Plant, which had provided the excavator and Michael Cunningham, the excavator operator, for safety breaches after the August 2007 incident.
Euro Earthworks, the principal contractor and Mr Cunningham’s employer, also faces charges but has entered administration and did not appear at court.
City of London Magistrates’ Court heard that on 28 August 2007, Mr Cunningham, who now lives in Eastbourne, failed to manually insert a pin into the ‘quick hitch’ (a device attached to the excavator arm used for the rapid changing of attachments) which was necessary to safely lock the bucket in place.
HSE’s investigation found Mr Cunningham failed to take reasonable care for the health and safety of fellow employees by positioning the bucket, which was filled with concrete, directly over Mr Fox and site supervisor Tim McCarthy who narrowly missed being hit by the bucket.
The court heard Hydro Plant did not have a suitable regime of inspection for the plant it hired out to ensure safety conditions were maintained. It also supplied the equipment without adequate safety warning signs, written information and instructions or CE marking.
Euro Earthworks failed to adequately plan, manage and monitor the construction work, while Hydro Plant neglected to ensure the quick hitch and all attachments supplied with the excavator were maintained in an efficient state, working order and in good repair.
Magistrates also heard HSE-issued advice on the safe use of quick hitches on excavators in March 2007. Euro Earthworks was aware of this advice and had made amendments to its written risk assessment, but still failed to take reasonably practicable steps that would have prevented the incident.
HSE Inspector Loraine Charles said: “This tragic incident was entirely preventable. There had already been a significant number of incidents involving buckets becoming detached from quick hitches, in particular semi-automatic quick hitches where operators had failed to insert the safety pin.
“Mr Cunningham can have been in no doubt that he should not have operated the excavator without the quick hitch’s safety pin in place and that he should not have manoeuvred the bucket over people. As hirers of the work equipment, Hydro Plant should clearly have paid much closer attention to the requirements placed upon them by health and safety law to ensure that use of the equipment was safe."