Building firm fined for worker's death

George Wilson who died while laying water pipes at a Borders farm Credit: Borders Press Agency

A building firm has been fined £30,000 after the death of an employee who was killed by falling soil in a collapsed trench.

Borders-based Rodger Builders pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act following the death of George Wilson on a farm near Heriot, Selkirkshire, in August 2014.

The 64-year-old was carrying out drainage work and was working alone as a mechanical excavator at Heriot Mill Farm when the tragedy happened.

A section of the trench Mr Wilson was excavating collapsed while he was in the trench trapped him and as a result he sustained fatal injuries.

Mr Wilson's wife reported him missing at 11.30pm. and two police officers made their way to the field where he had been working shortly after 1am.

Depute fiscal Gary Aitken told Jedburgh Sheriff Court: "They could hear the noise of the excavator engine running. The officers approached the machine and could see that there was a trench in front of it.

"A large slab of wet clay like soil, approximately 30 feet long, appeared to have collapsed from the side of the trench.

"Mr Wilson was found, his body trapped by the weight of the slab.

"Although his head was exposed his face was pressed against the opposite side of the trench. He was cold to touch and it was clear to the officers that he was dead."

Mr Aitken added that a pathologist said the weight of the soil; on his chest would have prevented him from breathing and caused catastrophic internal injuries and that "his death is likely to have been very quick."

Rodgers Builders Limited of Station Road, Earlston, Berwickshire, - which was founded in 1847 and employs 35 staff - pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act in that they failed to ensure a safe system of work was in place for carrying out drainage excavation works and in particular failed to ensure that the soils from the excavation were battened back to a safe angle.

It also admitted failing to ensure there was a clear communication policy with the employee was in place while he was working alone.

Peter Gray QC said:"The company has an excellent safety record.

"It has no previous convictions or relevant enforcement action against them. It is of the greatest concern and remorse that on August 11, 2014, Mr Wilson, a valuable and popular employee lost his life during the course of his employment."

Following the tragedy the company stopped carrying out agricultural drainage work.

Sheriff Peter Paterson said an aggravating factor was that the risk was well known and readily identifiable. But he took into account the company's safety record and working practices and from a starting point of £45,000, reduced the fine to £30,000 to be paid within two months.

Father-of-one Mr Wilson from Earlston, had been married for 35 years and was employed in the plant hire industry throughout his working life and had been with Rodger Builders for 10 years.

He was described in court as a "well-regarded employee and in particular was known locally to be skilled in work relating to farm field drains."

Afterwards Natalie Donald, from Thompsons Solicitors representing the Wilson family issued a statement on their behalf saying: