Rail company fined £550,000 after worker is buried by collapsed trench

A railway company has been fined £550,000 after walls of a trench collapsed and buried an employee carrying out excavation work outside Stafford railway station.

A platform at Stafford railway station
A platform at Stafford railway station

VolkerRail Ltd pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 after an investigation and prosecution by industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

The railway infrastructure company was found to have failed to prevent danger to workers undertaking excavation work beside the railway.

In July 2014, an employee was working in a trench outside Stafford railway station when the wall of the trench collapsed, burying them.

The worker suffered serious injuries including a broken pelvis and several broken ribs.

He had to have surgery on his pelvis, stomach and lungs and was placed in an induced coma.

By 2021 he was still in pain and no longer able to work full time.

At the time of the collapse the trench was approximately two metres deep and the excavation had been carried out without any support to the sides.

In its investigation, ORR found the company did not use temporary works – such as trench supports – to shore up the excavation, despite evidence of unstable ground conditions.

Expert evidence shows that had it done so the collapse would not have occurred.

ORR also found VolkerRail Ltd did not adequately brief its construction team on how to complete tasks and was not following its own methods.

In addition, poor management meant failings were not corrected and complaints were not fully acted upon.

The firm was sentenced at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court.

The judge said trench supports had been delivered to the site but were not used, and proper consideration was never given to the use of temporary works.

The court also heard it was clear that some concerns were raised regarding the work, and whilst some steps were taken following these concerns, the methodology was not fully adapted.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR, said: “VolkerRail Ltd had opportunities to correct working practices and make the works safer, but these opportunities were missed. The result led to extremely serious injuries to one of its employees.

“Over many years we have worked with industry to ensure that there is a good level of understanding of the regulations when undertaking excavation work.

"It is important that companies working on the railways maintain a relentless focus on managing risks to protect their staff.”

VolkerRail Ltd has been contacted for comment.

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