The director of a building company and and the co-owners of a London property firm have been heavily fined and ordered to perform community service after a worker was killed in a trench collapse in 2010.
Mr Xian Hou Ye was one of a group of workers contracted by HMB Services Ltd – whose director was Mr Vijay Patel – in 2010 to work on the conversion of a three-storey property in Lewisham to nine flats. The flat was co-owned by brothers Mr Mukesh Shah and Mr Kiran Shah, who had appointed HMB Services Ltd and Mr Patel as the principal contractor to oversee the project.
As part of the works, a large trench had been dug that was approximately seven metres long, two metres wide and three metres deep. This trench was being extended at the time of the accident on 30 September 2010 to make a 90-degree angle L-shape. Mr Ye was working in the existing section of the trench and a digger was helping to create the L-shape extension. However, as the work progressed the inner “angle” of the L-shape caved in and crushed Mr Ye under almost nine tonnes of dirt. Although a rescue effort was immediately undertaken he was pronounced dead at the site.
It is currently unknown as to whether Mr Ye’s family have decided to claim personal injury after his death.
The Health and Safety Executive was subsequently notified of the accident and commenced an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. This investigation found that there had been the following health and safety failings by HMB Services Ltd and the property owners:
- A failure to adequately support the trench – plywood and timber props had been used when more substantial supports should have been used
- A failure by the property owners to ensure that the principal contractor was sufficiently competent to carry out the project in a safe, properly planned manner
The Health and Safety Executive therefore recommended that a prosecution against Mr Patel and the Shah brothers be commenced.
The case came before the Woolwich Crown Court on 11 October 2013. Mr Mukesh Shah and Mr Kiran Shah pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. As a result, Mukesh Shah was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £34,750 whereas Kiran Shah was fined £25,000 and also ordered to pay costs of £34,750. The brothers were told that they would be jailed if they failed to make the necessary payments.
Mr Vijay Patel was ordered to undertake 270 hours of community work after pleading guilty to a breach of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007. The court found that he had no means to pay a fine or contribute towards the costs of the proceedings.
HSE Principal Inspector Russell Adfield stated after the hearing: “The clients in this case failed on all fronts. They had no advisors to help them understand what was required of them, the principal contractor they appointed was not competent to manage this work safely and there were no formal arrangements in place to ensure the safety of those workers on site. It appeared neither the clients nor principal contractor had any understanding of the very real risks on that site – or how to ensure those risks were controlled.”
Criminal defence solicitors for HMB Services Ltd and the Shah brothers appeared not to have commented after the case.
Redmans Solicitors are specialist employment law solicitors based in Richmond, London