Workplace Death As Man Crushed By Digger

Digger Death Worker’s Family Urge Industry To Learn Lessons Of ‘Avoidable Tragedy’

09.09.2010

The devastated parents of an engineer killed when a falling digger bucket struck him on the head have urged the construction industry to learn vital lessons from his tragic death.

The call from the distraught family of Mark Handford came after a coroner's jury yesterday recorded a verdict of Accidental Death into the incident which claimed the life of the 22-year-old just over a year ago in Worcestershire. 

The three day hearing was told that Mark, from Shirley in Solihull, was working on a building site in Redditch, Worcestershire last August when he was hit on the head by a falling bucket from an excavator, suffering fatal head injuries.

The verdict was accepted by the family and they urge all construction firms to take every necessary step to ensure that a similar tragedy could never happen again, including an urgent mandatory ban on semi-automatic quick-hitches.

Speaking on behalf of the Handford family, solicitor Rebecca Hearsey from the Midlands' office of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "The family believes that the type of coupler used to attach the bucket to the digger offers too much scope for things to go wrong. The family feels that the construction plant industry should revisit the voluntary ban - implemented in October 2008 - which meant that semi-automatic couplers would not be supplied for new machines in the UK, while pre-existing units remained legal. 

"The Handfords believe that, given the number of units still in use in this country, it could take some considerable time for this mechanism to be phased out as and when machines come to the end of their use and so feel that an outright mandatory ban should be put in place now.

"Mark's parents believe that this was an entirely avoidable tragedy which robbed them of a much-loved son and cut short a young life. 

"Quite simply, this was an horrific accident which should never have happened. Mark should still be with us today and would have been if the correct workplace safety procedures had been followed that day.

"Nothing can ever bring their son back and that is something my clients will have to live with for the rest of their lives. However, they are utterly determined that his tragic death should at the very least serve as a warning to all construction firms and employees about the importance of safety at all times."

The main contractor, Bennimans, had sub-contracted ground works to JA Burke Construction, who employed Mark. In turn, it had sub-contracted the provision of plant and operators to Kingsbury Transport & Plant who had sub-contracted operation of the excavator to John Gold, who traded as Gold Plant Hire & Contractor.  

Evidence from a Health and Safety Executive expert confirmed that it was probable that the excavator was turned off when the bucket came away.  Hydraulic pressure should have been sufficient to keep the bucket safely attached and, in the event of hydraulic failure, a safety pin should have been in place, which in turn should have been secured by a clip.

The expert concluded that the main safety pin could not have been in place when the bucket fell. The safety pin (which may not even have been the one supplied or a correct one) was found on the ground near the excavator following the incident but the clip, which should have held the pin in place, was never found. A failure in the hydraulics meant that the bucket was released and the safety pin which should have worked as a back up, was not in place, allowing the bucket to fall.

Mr Handford is survived by his parents, Paul and Julie Handford and his sister, Sarah. Paul commented: “Mark had an insatiable love of life. He was a keen golfer and loved football, playing regularly for local team, Damsonwood Blues FC and passionately supporting Aston Villa FC. 

"He was very precious to us and his friends.  We have found it very hard to come to terms with the senseless loss of his life and we continue to miss him terribly."

Rebecca Hearsey concluded: "The Handford family had been hoping for a full and independent investigation into this tragedy and it was felt that this was best achieved by allowing a jury to consider the events that led to Mark’s death.

"Listening to the evidence at the inquest has been a traumatic experience for the family members but they at least have a clearer understanding of what happened to him that day. 

"The family will now consider all the information that came to light during the inquest before deciding on their next course of legal action."

The inquest returned its verdict of Accidental Death during the week that the TUC published figures claiming that around 20,000 people were still dying annually in accidents at work or as a result of industrial illness.