Directors William Friend and Robert Plume have been sentenced after a young worker dies on his first day at work at Sweetings Farm, near Tiverton, on 27 October 2009.

The 20-year-old man, Daniel Whiston, who died on his first day at work for a new company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, was fatally crushed when the four-tonne dumper he was driving toppled over, a court has recently heard.  A number of serious failings were revealed including the fact that no suitable or sufficient risk assessments had been carried out for the work and no safe system of work was used.

Daniel Whiston, from Dulverton, was allowed to drive the dumper, which had a number of serious defects, before it overturned down the embankment at Sweetings Farm.

The HSE investigated the incident, and prosecuted Mr Whiston’s employers, company directors William Friend and Robert Plume, at Exeter Crown Court on 22 Dec.  The court heard that Plume and Friend’s company, Wedgewood Buildings Ltd, had been contracted to expand a pond on the farm, which involved excavating and moving spoil around the site.

Mr Whiston received about 30 minutes’ training from a more experienced colleague, who was also operating an excavator and filling the dumper, before he started his first day’s work.  During the afternoon, the excavator operator, who was the only other worker on site saw the fully-loaded dumper driven by Mr Whiston topple off the side of the causeway and down the 60 degree slope, turning over and crushing him underneath.

HSE’s investigation found a number of serious failings on the site:

  • the excavator driver was not trained to teach Mr Whiston how to use the dumper and was not competent to supervise him;
  • the dumper had a number of serious defects, including steering failure, defective and inoperative front braking and a non-functioning handbrake with worn-out parts;
  • no suitable or sufficient risk assessments had been carried out for the work and no safe system of work was used; and
    the causeway used by the dumper was too narrow for a front-tipping dumper to be positioned and safely tip the load down the embankment.

Robert Plume, of East Street, South Molton, and William Friend, of Hannaford, Swimbridge, near Barnstaple, each pleaded guilty to a breach of Health and Safety legislation.  Each was given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and 180 hours of community service, to be completed within a year. They were also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 each.

HSE Inspector Jonathan Harris, speaking after the hearing, said:

“The very serious failures to manage this job properly contributed to the tragic and needless loss of a young man’s life.  Workers have a right to expect that the equipment they use is appropriate for the task, properly maintained and in a safe condition.

“Mr Whiston was not given suitable basic or advanced training under the industry’s Construction Plant Competence Scheme and was, instead, given a short briefing by a worker who himself had no formal qualifications for driving the dumper.

“Anyone in control of construction projects must ensure the work is properly planned and risk assessed to avoid similar tragedies in the future. Knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how it should be done safely.”