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Company directors sent to prison for wall collapse that caused 5 deaths

On 7 July 2016, five agency workers were part of a team clearing swarf from a metal recycling bay at a site operated by Hawkeswood Metal Recycling Ltd and Shredmet Ltd (now operating as Ensco 10101 Ltd) in Birmingham. Around 15 minutes after the men started work, the 12ft-high, 45-tonne wall of the bay – made up of 30 concrete blocks – collapsed, killing the men instantly.

The HSE found that the companies involved – Hawkeswood, who had originally built the block wall; and Shredmet, who had inherited the business – had both failed to adequately assess the risks associated with the construction of that block wall in terms of its height and width. More importantly, both failed to calculate how much material could be stored against the wall.

Because of that failure, the operatives at the site were not given the appropriate information, instruction or training about how much material could be stored in each of the bays. CCTV footage shown in court showed how machinery had been used on the incident morning to push the briquettes into bay 3, compacting them further and increasing the lateral load on the walls. Then, because of the removal of all the material in bay 4, there was no returning force on the other side, meaning that at some point the wall was going to collapse as it had been overloaded.

This was a case of all involved failing to properly risk assess, failing to understand the amount of material that could be stored within the bay, and as a result, failing to properly inform and instruct and train the operatives to ensure work was carried out in a safe manner.

In November 2022, after a five-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court, Wayne Anthony Hawkeswood and Graham John Woodhouse were both found guilty of four charges each – failing to discharge the duty to which they were subject by virtue of ss 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Hawkeswood Metal Recycling Limited and Ensco 10101 Limited (known at the time as Shredmet Ltd) were also found guilty of two identical counts bringing the total number of convictions to 12.

On Monday, 15 May, again at Birmingham Crown Court, Hawkeswood and Woodhouse each received nine-month custodial sentences. Hawkeswood Metal Recycling was fined £1m while Ensco 10101 Limited was ordered pay £600,000. The judge also ordered £775,000 to be paid in prosecution costs.

Every employer has a duty to manage the health and safety of those they employ or those who may be affected by their undertakings. Ensure risks are assessed, and take action where it has been identified that control measures are needed.

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