£3m fine for Spanish firm after worker with unsecured harness dies in fall

A principal contractor from northern Spain, hired to demolish redundant machinery at an alumnium reprocessing works in Wales, has been fined £3m after one of its workers fell to his death. The fatality occurred on 14 July 2015, at the Befesa plant in Fenns Bank, just inside the Welsh border near Wrexham.

Caernarfon Crown Court heard that 32 year old Jose Luis Santos Canal, an employee of Porvi Construcciones y Contratas, was one of a team carrying out the demolition work. He was using flame cutting equipment to cut through the steelwork supporting a large metal hopper when it collapsed, knocking him from the structure where he was standing. Canal was killed in the fall.

An HSE investigation found that the hopper was not supported before it was cut from the structure, and there was no edge protection to provide a safe platform for working at height. Although Canal was wearing a harness at the time, a report in the North Wales Daily Post says that it was not fixed to anything.

“Porvi put cost-cutting ahead of health and safety, the bottom line ahead of Mr Canal’s safety and wellbeing”. During a further site inspection in October 2015, HSE inspectors discovered additional safety failures. Befesa, the owner of the plant, had failed to report a number of incidents, including the fact that two workers had been diagnosed with hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) earlier that year. The HSE found that the company had also failed to monitor and assess the risk of HAVS to employees caused by their work.

Porvi Construcciones y Contratas of Zamora, near Valladollid, northern Spain, was convicted in absentia of breaching sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The company was fined a total of £3m and full costs.

Befesa Salt Slags of Fenns Bank, Whitchurch pleaded guilty to breaching: Section 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; regulation 5(1) and 4(2) of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence (RIDDOR) Regulations 1995; and two breaches of regulation 8(d) of the Reporting of injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence (RIDDOR) Regulations 2013.

Befesa was fined £150,000 following the investigation into the HAVS incidents, and was also sentenced £75,000 for failing to adequately supervise and monitor the demolitions activities. The company must also pay full costs of £67,092.44.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE principal inspector Clare Owen said: “It is clear there was a wholesale failure to manage health and safety during at this site. “Porvi put cost-cutting ahead of health and safety, the bottom line ahead of Mr Canal’s safety and wellbeing. His death could have been avoided had sufficient planning and monitoring taken place.”