Published: 17:01, 07 November 2016
| Updated: 17:06, 07 November 2016
A waste company has been fined £80,000 after a stockpile of refuse up to 30ft high collapsed on a labourer, burying him alive.
Neville Watson screamed “Get me out” as colleagues and others tried to rescue him with their bare hands.
Paramedics fought to resuscitate him at Blaise Farm Quarry site in West Malling but he died from asphyxiation.
It was the first time the 39-year-old father had operated the shredding machine for the company, New Earth Solutions Group, Maidstone Crown Court was told on Monday.
The machine was usually operated remotely from the safety of the loading truck’s cab, but on the day of the tragedy, August 9 2014, it was being repaired.
Mr Watson, of Lakeside, Snodland, therefore, had to get out of the cab to manoeuvre the shredder.
A judge was told that he started work there in January and had not received any training or supervision for the task, but had just been shown how to use it the previous day by a colleague.
A lorry driver who witnessed the horror scene told an inquest the rubbish fell on the victim “like a wave”.
New Earth Solutions Group, who admitted a breach of employee duty, went into administration in June with bank debts of £40 million.
In the case brought by the Health and Safety Executive, prosecutor James Thacker said of the accident: “The risk of foreseeability was absolutely apparent and obvious.”
The company had a turnover of £37 million last year and although bank debts of £35 million had been paid it still owed creditors £9 million and only had funds of £600,000.
Judge Philip Statman said because the company was in administration his hands were tied in relation to the fine he could impose. Had he done so last year he would have had a starting point of £540,000.
He added that no financial penalty would offer any solace to Mr Watson’s family.
“I am satisfied that there was at the time of this tragedy no safe system of work and that Mr Watson lacked effective training for the shredding activity,” said the judge.
“It seems to me in such a case as this where there is enormous public interest, the community as a whole must understand that companies do not get away with it simply by using the possibility of going into administration to, in some way, shelter from the consequences of the law, although that is not the case here.
New Earth Solutions were given six months to pay the fine and £38,373 court costs.
The court heard the tragedy had a significant impact on Mr Watson’s family, with his children, aged 15 and 11, having counselling.
John Williams, defending, apologised to Mr Watson’s family and friends.
“He was a much-loved colleague, hard-working, keen and enthusiastic and his death was a matter of deep regret and concern for the company,” he said.
The company, which operates five sites, took its responsibilities “very seriously”.
“It acknowledges there were shortcomings in this case but it’s important to understand and appreciate that this was a company which took health and safety seriously, sought out risks to manage risks and invested considerable amounts of money in doing so,” added Mr Williams.