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Written by
on 25 January 2018

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The collapse of Carillion comes as a significant blow to the UK construction industry – particularly smaller businesses who were working with them on a subcontract basis.

It is hard to see any positive outcomes from the current situation – but the Carillion story does offer important lessons about health and safety in the workplace for every business.

Deaths on the railway

Carillion was a provider of maintenance services to Network Rail and was twice involved in fatal accidents. In 2009 the firm was handed a £444,444 fine after two contractors were killed by a reversing road-rail vehicle (RRV).

The court ruled that the RRV had been travelling at 15mph, well above walking speed as required by safety guidelines. There should also have been a guide walking alongside the RRV, warning workers that the vehicle was approaching; the guide was not present at the time of the accident, however.

The second incident in 2016 attracted a £200,000 fine after a rail worker was struck and killed by a passing train. Again, it was found that important safeguards were ignored. Both lines passing the work site should have been closed – but one was left open, allowing trains to pass dangerously close to workers.

Lesson: Carillion had clearly documented safeguards and procedures that could have prevented both incidents. Businesses must ensure that workers apply these safeguards at all times and on every site.

Fatal falls

Falls are one of the most common causes of workplace fatalities, and Carillion had two such accidents in recent years. First, an inexperienced employee died after falling 17m into a large storage tank. Investigators found that some of the scaffolding used to prevent falls had been removed from the workspace.

A second death occurred in 2012 when a scaffolder fell 19m through a ladder opening. Investigators discovered that an unsafe work culture had developed on the site, encouraging workers to take unnecessary risks and to ignore important safeguards like harnesses and edge protection.

Lesson: Safety equipment is absolutely vital to worker wellbeing. Harnesses, edge protection and scaffolding must be fitted and remain in place for as long as required – even if that inconveniences other aspects of a project.

Considering the relative size of Carillion and the number of people and projects they oversaw, the firm had a reasonable health and safety track record. With the exception of their attitude towards whistle-blowers reporting health and safety concerns, there is no evidence of institutional failings for instance.

But the fact that Carillion workers were killed on site is evidence that improvements could have been made. It is now up to the rest of the UK construction industry to learn from these mistakes and improve safety provisions for their workers moving forwards.

For more help and advice about raising standards on your sites, please get in touch.

Chartered health and safety consultant. 20+ years helping busy people in construction and the built environment. David provides how-to articles, advice and guidance to help explain and make compliance easier for clients. A solutionist with a brain you can pick. And you can easily get in touch with David on social media Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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