Rail firm fined after trench collapse

Railway infrastructure company VolkerRail Ltd has been fined £550,000 for health and safety breaches after an unsupported trench collapsed, burying a worker.

An employee was working in a trench in 2014 as part of a project carrying out excavation work outside Stafford railway station when the wall of the trench collapsed.

The worker suffered serious injuries including 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 and Road (ORR) found the company did not use temporary works (such as trench supports) to shore up the excavation despite evidence of unstable ground conditions.

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

Sentence was passed at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court last week following ORR’s prosecution.

Ian Prosser, HM 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.”