Shropshire Star

Firm fined £3m after death of worker in 'Russian Roulette' tragedy at Shropshire recycling plant

A Spanish construction company has been fined £3 million over the death of a worker at a plant near Whitchurch in what was described as a “Russian Roulette” tragedy.

Mereside Industrial park at Fenns Bank

Judge Huw Rees at Caernarfon Crown Court said: “This was a cost-cutting exercise at the expense of the safety of employees and other people.”

The tragedy happened in July 2015 at Fenns Bank near Whitchurch, just inside the Welsh border, during demolition work at an aluminium recycling plant.

Jose Canal, 32, was killed when a hopper collapsed.

The company Porvi Construcciones y Contratas – of Valladolid in northern Spain – was convicted of health and safety breaches by a jury after failing to participate in the proceedings.

“Given one of their own employees perished in this accident, it’s difficult to understand the attitude taken by the company,” Judge Rees remarked.

The company had denied charges of failing to ensure that employees and non-employees were exposed to risk. Mr Canal had been involved in demolishing a hopper in a crushing shed and was on a platform cutting through a steel beam. The hopper, not supported, collapsed in a heap of dust which remained for 25 minutes.

Nigel Lawrence QC, prosecuting, described the lack of safety measures as “astonishing and appalling”.

Pointing out that regulations were necessary because an average of 60 people were killed on construction sites in a year and thousands hurt, The QC added: “They just about broke every rule in the book when they came to dismantle this hopper. They failed to apply any of the guidelines.

“In many ways it’s an astonishing case, little more than a game of Russian Roulette. Someone was going to be hurt or killed – the only question was who and when. Virtually everything that should be done was not done. Workers were allowed to work at height on the hopper while people stood on the part that was to be cut.”

He added :“The system of work was grossly unsafe. People were exposed to danger – there’s been a complete failure to comply with the law and the code of practice. We have a situation where the defendant did absolutely nothing to protect the workers.”

The firm must pay £75,000 costs.

Befesa Salt Slags, which awarded the demolition contract to Porvi, was fined £225,000 with £65,000 costs after admitting offences involving the fatality and other health and safety responsibilities.

“This is a company which fell into error,” the judge said.”It had a good previous health and safety record.”