Drowning Death sees BAM Nuttall fined £2m for safety failings

  • Health & Safety
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Construction company BAM Nuttall Ltd has been fined more than £2m following the death of a worker who drowned whilst working on their flood defence project in Leeds.

Gary Webster, 60, was working on a boat in Knostrop Weir on the River Aire, attempting to retrieve a gas canister from the bottom of the weir gates. The boat capsized and Mr Webster and his colleague were thrown into the water.

The other man managed to swim to safety, but Mr Webster suffered cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure, exacerbated by cold water immersion. He was rescued by a diver after 15 minutes in the water, but died two days later in hospital, on 1 November 2017.

Senior coroner for West Yorkshire (East) Kevin McLoughlin raised concerns that further deaths could follow, unless the company took preventative action.

Investigating the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that BAM Nuttall Ltd could have reduced the risk to the two men working in the boat by slowing the flow of weir water by using the gates. The company had failed to do so, despite having several operatives who were trained and authorised to control the weir gates.

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This established process would have allowed the debris to float away from the weir, or be reached safely by boat. HSE Inspector Jayne Towey said this showed BAM Nuttall had failed to plan the work, or to assess the risks involved with it:

“BAM Nuttall failed to plan the work… It failed to ensure that suitable safety measures were in place and failed to put in place a safe system of work,” she said.

“This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices.”

Appearing at Leeds Magistrates’ Court, BAM Nuttall Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. They were fined £2.345 million and ordered to pay £25,770.48 in costs.

A spokesperson for BAM Nuttall apologised to Mr Webster's family, saying:

“We deeply regret that failures in our safety management allowed this incident to occur.

“Everyone should go home safe at the end of a day’s work. The fact Gary did not is a matter of solemn reflection. Safety remains our number one priority as a business.

“We have always held our hands up in relation to the events at Knostrop Weir and said we could have, and should have, done more to protect Gary.”

They added: “Whilst we cannot turn back the clock, we commit to doing our best to stop any similar incident happening in the future at any site we control.”

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