Trenching fatality stirs safety call

Dated: November 2008 Display all News Items

The Department of Labour is calling on employers in the construction industry to review their safety procedures after its third trenching fatality prosecution in a month.

Callum Molloy Ltd was sentenced yesterday, following a guilty plea in the Thames District Court, to one charge brought under the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee.

The Department decided to prosecute following the death of Keith Arnold Hancox on a site near Thames on 12 February 2008. The company was fined $30,000 and ordered to pay $80,000 in reparation to Mr Hancox's partner.

Mr Hancox died after a trench wall collapsed, burying him facedown in 1m³ of spoil. Although his workmates were able to dig him out, Mr Hancox died of his injuries.

Department of Labour Hamilton service manager Mark Whatnall said Mr Hancox's death should never have happened

"Our sympathies are with his family, friends and co-workers. We are deeply aware that the prosecution and fine of his employer offer little comfort after the tragedy of his death. But we hope the prosecution will remind companies in the construction sector of the potentially terrible human cost of failing to ensure workers are safe."

Mr Whatnall said Callum Molloy Ltd had failed to get geotechnical advice on the stability of the material surrounding the trench walls. It had also failed to cut the trench back to a safe slope or provide a trench protection shield to ensure the trench did not collapse.  The company also started work without notifying the Department of Labour. This was a breach of Health and Safety legislation.

He said the Department's  Approved Code of Excavation and Shafts for Foundations  sets out safety requirements for all excavation work. Employers needed to be familiar with its contents. This code is available at

The two previous incidents were in Nelson and Oamuru.

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