Firm fined £2.5m after worker crushed to death

James Sim of Wales was killed when a trench collapsed in Morecambe
James Sim of Wales was killed when a trench collapsed in Morecambe
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A utilities firm has been fined £2.6m and ordered to pay £54,000 costs over the death of a worker who was crushed by a collapsing trench.

James Sim, 32, was working as a subcontractor on a construction site linked to a green energy project off Lancashire’s coast. Today his grieving mum Julie Williams, 57, called for more awareness of the dangers of trench accidents.

The mum-of-four said: “I was horrified when I looked at figures on the internet and found seven other people had died in trench accidents since Jamie died. Although the court case is over, this will never be over for us.”

The family have been waiting three years for the conclusion of the investigation

Mr Sim, from Barry, South Wales, was working as a subcontractor for construction firm LD Oliver on pipelines close to the Heysham windfarm during a scheme to connect wiring to the farm.

But on April 14, 2010, the trench he was working in collapsed on top of him.

Preston Crown Court was told of the moment his colleagues, who had shouted a warning at him when a vertical crack appeared in the trench, saw a chunk of clay collapse onto him, virtually burying him. The workers tried to free him by hand and with a digger, but he was trapped beneath the rubble for around 40 minutes. He was eventually flown by air ambulance to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary where he was placed in intensive care.

However on April 23, he died after contracting pneumonia.

Balfour Beatty Utilities Solutions Ltd admitted three offences under health and safety legislation.

James’ parents Julie and Tony attended the hearing at Preston Crown Court and were tearful as The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, asked for the family’s statements outlining the impact of his death to be summarised in court.

The court heard how six days before the accident, engineers e-mailed a report to Balfour Beatty highlighting the narrowness of the trench, and that it was showing signs of caving.

Defending the firm, Mark Scoggins said it was not a case of deliberate or reckless failure, but oversights by a number of individuals.

He read a statement from the company which said: “ Our shortcomings led to the accident in which Mr Sim so tragically lost his life. That should not have happened. On behalf of Balfour Beatty and its directors can we extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Sim.”

Judge Brown said the company’s actions “fell far below the required standards”.

He said it was apparent there was a misunderstanding between various departments about would provide on site supervision, that risks assessments failed significantly to address a number of key factors, and no sheeting or supportive measures were in the trench. He added: “It’s my judgment this tragic accident was foreseeable, entirely avoidable and should never have happened.”

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said: “Balfour Beatty has offered its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of James Sim who was killed in this tragic incident.

“The safety of the public and our workforce is always our primary concern. We have since taken appropriate corrective action to take the lessons learnt from this tragic incident and share them across our business.”