Soft drinks firm to pay £155k after fatal accident

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Safety Accident

Surfing and trial bike champion Gavin Bedford, aged 24, was helping to dismantle pipework before the fatal accident
Surfing and trial bike champion Gavin Bedford, aged 24, was helping to dismantle pipework before the fatal accident
A soft drinks firm has been ordered to pay £155,000 in fines and costs, after a 24-year worker died during the decommissioning of its former factory in South Wales.

Gerber Juice – now trading as Refresco Gerber UK Ltd – was prosecuted after a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Wales Police revealed the firm failed to adequately plan and resource the decommissioning work.

Newport Crown Court was told last Friday (May 16) that Gavin Bedford, aged 24, was helping to dismantle industrial pipework at the Gerber Juice Company Ltd premises in Llantrisant on June 16 2010. During decommissioning, collapsing pipework, weighing about 3t, struck him.

An HSE investigation revealed the electro-mechanical engineer from Porthcawl could have lain injured for up to 40 minutes before he was found trapped unconscious under the pipes.

The worker was one of a small number of employees asked to help specialist contractors strip the factory of its plant and machinery, after Gerber moved production to Bridgwater in Somerset.

The firm had decided to plan, manage and monitor the project itself instead of appointing a competent main contractor, said the HSE.

‘Overlooked various hazardous tasks’

“As a consequence, Gerber had overlooked various hazardous tasks such as the removal of overhead industrial pipes and their supporting structures. This work consequently fell to the in-house engineers because they had not contracted the specialists to do it.”

The court heard Bedford’s work had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management. Also safety systems used to manage specialist contractors had not been used to manage Gerber’s own engineering staff on the same site.

In the absence of a written plan, explaining how the structure was to be dismantled, bolts and structural elements were removed in an unsafe sequence, leading to the fatal collapse, according to the HSE and police investigation.

The Court was also told that a production manager was in charge of the hazardous decommissioning project, despite never having done this work before or having received formal training. A safety officer visited only once or twice a fortnight and was based in Somerset.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Liam Osborne, said: “Gavin Bedford, a young hard-working and highly-regarded engineer, was killed because of Gerber’s basic corporate failure to plan, manage and monitor a construction project.

‘Demolition or dismantling work’

“Any demolition or dismantling work must be set down in writing and strictly monitored – as the law requires. It is also basic common sense.”

The fatal accident could have been avoided if Gerber had made the time to think through what needed to be done, and how it should be done, said Osborne.

Nigel Bedford, Gavin’s father, said: “This type of work was obviously dangerous and Gerber should have looked after Gavin properly. There was no planning for the job and the area wasn’t cordoned off. The management involved in the work didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

Refresco Gerber UK Ltd was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £75,000 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work &c. Act 1974.

A spokesperson for Gerber Juice said: “Gavin’s death was a terrible tragedy and a source of the utmost regret for us. He was a valued employee with a bright future who is fondly remembered. We accept the court’s ruling today and are committed to ensuring that such an incident could not happen again.”

Gavin Bedford was a well-known surfing and British trial-biking champion. 

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