Trench collapse lands VolkerRail with £550,000 fine

Site of the incident

Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard how a VolkerRail employee was seriously injured in a trench collapse on 6th July 2014, He was working in an excavated trench outside Stafford railway station when the wall of the trench collapsed onto him.

He suffered a broken pelvis and several broken ribs. He underwent surgery on his pelvis, stomach and lungs and was placed in an induced coma. By 2021 he was still in pain and no longer able to work full time.

At the time of the collapse, the excavation was approximately two metres deep and had been constructed without any support to the sides.

In its investigation, the Office of Rail & Road (ORR) – the industry regulator – found that VolkerRail did not use any temporary works to shore up the excavation despite evidence of unstable ground conditions. Trench supports had been delivered to site but were not used. Expert evidence showed that had they done so the collapse would not have occurred.

ORR also found VolkerRail did not adequately brief its construction team on how to complete tasks and was not following its own methods. In addition, poor management meant failings were not corrected and complaints were not fully acted upon.

Sentence was passed by His Honour Judge Smith at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court on Friday 13th May 2022 following ORR’s prosecution.

In his remarks, HH Judge Smith said that no proper consideration was given to the use of temporary works. The judge also said it was clear that some concerns were raised regarding the work, and while some steps were taken following these concerns, the methodology was not fully adapted.

VolkerRail Ltd pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £550,000.

Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways at ORR, said: “VolkerRail Ltd had opportunities to correct working practices and make the works safer, but these opportunities were missed. The result led to extremely serious injuries to one of its employees.

“Over many years we have worked with industry to ensure that there is a good level of understanding of the regulations when undertaking excavation work. It is important that companies working on the railways maintain relentless focus on managing risks to protect their staff.”

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