Fife company fined after worker was buried alive

Dundee Sheriff Court
Dundee Sheriff Court

A man was buried alive when a trench collapsed on him – thanks to health and safety blunders by bosses – leaving him with horrific injuries.

Miraculously Julian Kilbane survived the horror accident when colleagues rushed to dig him out from under tonnes of soil that had fallen on him – burying him and leaving only the very top of his head exposed.

Wallace Roofing and Building Ltd have been fined £14,000 over the incident, which left Mr Kilbane, 43, in intensive care for six days with punctured lungs and all but two of his ribs broken.

Lynn Jamieson, depute fiscal, told Dundee Sheriff Court that Mr Kilbane was working to connect drains on an extension at Millfield House in Falkland to a sewer when the incident occurred.

He was standing in a trench around nine feet deep and five feet wide when the workers came across a large rock blocking their path.

Mr Kilbane asked another man to use an excavator to loosen it and clear the path. But when he did so one wall of the trench collapsed.

Miss Jamieson said: “This buried Mr Kilbane to the extent that only the top of his head could be seen above the soil.

“The other workers heard a loud bang and immediately went to investigate and assisted in trying to dig Mr Kilbane out. They started digging the soil away from his head to allow him to breathe.

“He remained partially buried in the trench until the emergency services arrived.

“Mr Kilbane spent six days in intensive care followed by five days in the high dependency unit and four days on a ward.

“He sustained a broken shoulder and collarbone, both lungs were punctured and he suffered multiple fractures to all but two of his ribs.

“He may require an operation in the future if the pain becomes intolerable,” she added.

“He has been advised he has scar tissue on his lungs from his broken ribs which causes him to get breathless when he walks for several minutes. He has been told this will not improve and he has the lungs of someone 30 years older than him.

“He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and still suffers from some effects.

“It was foreseeable that an unsupported trench wall would collapse.

“The trench walls were up to nine feet deep and there was no attempt to support, batter or step the walls.

“It was foreseeable that the weight of the soil surrounding an unsupported trench, together with the weight of the excavator itself, could put pressure on the soil round the trench and cause it to collapse on to someone working in the trench.”

Miss Jamieson said an investigation found that while the company was experienced in the building industry no-one had received any formal health and safety training for managing a construction site.

None of the company’s employees were familiar with making risk assessments.

The court was told that the company’s directors have now taken courses and training in health and safety and pledged not to undertake work in deep excavations in the future.

Wallace Roofing and Building Ltd, based at The Mill, Milldeans, Star, Fife, pleaded guilty on indictment to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act of failing to provide sufficient training to staff, failing to maintain a safe system of work and failing to make a suitable risk assessment, as a result of which a trench collapsed trapping Mr Kilbane and causing him severe injury, permanent disfigurement and permanent impairment.

Sheriff Alastair Carmichael fined the firm £14,000.