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Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited and Kaefer Limited fined after scaffolder ship fall

Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited (DRDL) and Kaefer Limited were today fined a total of £896,660 after a scaffolder was seriously injured when he fell through an unprotected hole on a Royal Navy warship.

Both companies attended Plymouth Magistrates Court this afternoon in relation to health and safety breaches following a prosecution prepared by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

On 11 April, 2023, a Kaefer Limited employee, was dismantling scaffolding inside a ballast tank as part of maintenance work on board HMS Bulwark at Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth, a site where Royal Navy vessels are repaired and maintained.

On this occasion, an uncovered hole, which allows water to move between decks within the tank, lay below where the employee was dismantling the scaffolding.

He climbed down the ladder, but as he stepped back he fell 15ft through the exposed hole onto the lower tank floor.

The employee sustained numerous serious injuries which included, multiple fractures to his pelvis, a splintered wrist, a dislocated elbow and broken bones in his arm, hand and fingers.

Some of the breaks required pinning and the employee spent two months in hospital and a further fortnight in a rehabilitation centre before returning home.

Today, at Plymouth Magistrates Court, DRDL pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that people not in its employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

It also admitted failing to ensure that its own employees were not exposed to similar risks.

Kaefer Limited pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees in relation to the risks arising whilst working at height.

District Judge Jo Matson ordered DRDL to pay a fine of £750,000 and Kaefer Limited a fine of £146,660, along with prosecution costs of £5,589.90.

It should have been known that the holes presented a clear risk of injury and a previous incident on the same site, in January 2021, had indicated that.

Then, a Kaefer contractor had fallen into the very same hole, but the worker managed to prevent his fall on that occasion, to avoid serious injury.

Although a report about this earlier incident suggested a means of preventing further similar accidents, it was not actioned.

After the hearing, Dan Hasted, ONR’s Director of Regulation - Operating Facilities Division, said: “We welcome today’s outcome which recognises that Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited and Kaefer Limited failed in their duty to protect workers.

"This incident was entirely avoidable and was the result of a series of significant failings on the part of both organisations involved in this work.

"Nobody should go to work and not come home in a fit and healthy state.”

(Image: Bottom of ballast tank into which scaffolder fell)

In relation to Kaefer, this was an unsafe way of working and a formal risk assessment, which included control measures to deal with the clear hazard, was not implemented.

This incident was a conventional health and safety matter, and there was no radiological risk to the public. HMS Bulwark is a surface ship, with no nuclear components, but the incident occurred within the boundary of the nuclear licensed site and was therefore investigated by ONR, the UK’s independent nuclear regulator.

Mr Hasted added: “Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited and Kaefer Limited have fully cooperated with us throughout our investigation and we welcome their guilty pleas.

“The safety of workers at licensed nuclear sites is absolutely paramount and we will continue to hold the industry to account in order to protect workers and the public.”

As part of the sentencing determination, District Judge Matson ruled the health and safety breach represented a medium culpability (higher end) and a category 3 level of harm for both defendants, with DRDL classed as a ‘very large organisation’ and Kaefer Limited a 'large organisation.'