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Firms fined over worker's death

PUBLISHED: 09:25 27 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:53 05 July 2010

Two multinational energy companies were yesterday fined £150,000 each after a Norfolk court heard how a rig worker plunged to his death because proper safety measures were not in place.

Two multinational energy companies were yesterday fined £150,000 each after a Norfolk court heard how a rig worker plunged to his death because proper safety measures were not in place.

David Soanes, from Lowestoft, was working more than 40 miles offshore on the Clipper North Sea gas rig when he fell five metres.

The 59-year-old mechanical technician had been carrying out maintenance work on stairs which were heavily corroded by the sea air when he slipped through a gap in a walkway on November 11, 2005.

Prosecutor Mark Harrison told Norwich Crown Court that industry giants Shell UK, which owned the rig, and Amec Group, which employed Mr Soanes and provided maintenance staff, were both responsible for health and safety.

The companies pleaded guilty to charges of failing to properly assess the risks and failing to provide adequate supervision.

Shell and Amec will have to pay legal costs on top of their fines, meaning each company will pay a total of £191,500.

Prosecutor Mark Harrison described how Mr Soanes had been replacing the steps which had become badly corroded. This left a gap which “anybody working in this environment lifting a 50lb item could have fallen through”.

He described how rig workers regularly worked in hostile conditions, exposed to strong winds and an “aquatic climate”, although this was not a factor in the accident. Because of the level of corrosion and the size of the steps it was heavy physical work.

The court heard how a “tick box mentality” may have existed between the two companies when it came to safety checks.

Although assessments were carried out they did not take full account of the difficult nature of the job, the height Mr Soanes was working at and the general risks associated with labouring on the extremities of a rig.

Toby Riley Smith, representing Shell, said Mr Soanes had worked with the company for some time and was “held in the highest regard by his colleagues”.

The firm recognised it had failed to meet the standards required of them and had taken significant steps to make sure such an accident does not happen again.

Mr Harrison agreed that Shell and Amec had improved standards, adding: “We are happy to be able to say that matters have improved considerably since 2005 and the offshore division of the Health and Safety Executive now accepts they are industry leaders in the field.”

Fining them, Judge Peter Jacobs said: “The companies have witnessed the effect of this death and have shown remorse. Their resolution is that nothing will happen like this again.”

Speaking after the case, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warned employers working offshore to ensure adequate risk assessments were in place.

HSE principal inspector David Perry said: “This incident resulted from Shell and Amec failing to manage well known and readily foreseeable hazards, in particular falling from height.

“Had the companies carried out adequate risk assessments and implemented and supervised the necessary control measures, including the use of a fall-arrest harness, this accident could have been avoided.

“HSE will not hesitate to take action against those who fall short of the law in such a way.”

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