A CONSTRUCTION industry company has been fined £60,000 after the death of a 78-year-old worker at its site in Tadley.

At Winchester Crown Court, Judge David Griffiths imposed a £90,000 fine on John Stacey and Sons – reducing it to £60,000 because the company pleaded guilty. He also ordered the company to pay the full £29,000 legal costs.

The court heard how Fred Aubrey, of Aldermaston Road, Sherborne St John, died from fatal injuries sustained after being hit by a Komatsu shovel tractor weighing several tons.

He was airlifted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford but died of his injuries five days after the incident, which was on June 1, 2007.

The great-grandfather had worked for the firm for 15 years but had been associated with it in the construction industry for more than 40 years.

Passing sentence, Judge Griffiths said: “This was a tragic and avoidable accident.”

Prosecutor Mark Watson told how Mr Aubrey had been hand-picking wood from waste at the company’s waste transfer station alongside three other employees when colleague Paul Kissock was asked to help shovel material into a skip loader using the huge Komatsu tractor.

Looking around, Mr Kissock saw no evidence of anyone behind him and reversed the tractor into Mr Aubrey, who had seemingly walked behind it.

Mr Watson said the hand-picking of waste on the site floor was being tried out as a new procedure. The amount of waste was deemed insufficient to warrant the use of machinery and so the workers were on the ground close to heavy-duty vehicles as they manoeuvred in the yard.

The court heard how no proper risk assessments had been completed on the new way of working before it started.

The judge was told the company has since installed a safe area for hand-picking with a concrete barrier and metal cage protecting workers at the site at Whitehouse Farm in Silchester Road.

Summarising the case for the prosecution, Mr Watson said: “Had these relatively straight-forward steps been taken, this accident wouldn’t have occurred.

“The process put the employees at serious risk of death or serious injury and that has led to the death of Mr Aubrey.”

John Stacey and Sons was said to have an exemplary safety record and had regular audits on health and safety and risk assessments until 2006. The last audit prior to the accident had taken place 14 months before.

In mitigation, barrister James Candlin said: “The exposure to risk didn’t involve many people. No man should be exposed to risk but there were relatively few men working in the area at the time.”

He added: “There was a very positive response (by the company) who made immediate changes.”

The company admitted failing to ensure the reasonable health and safety of employees, contrary to section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the court hearing, Darren Saul, a director of the firm, said: “John Stacey and Sons profoundly regret the accident that led to the tragic death of Fred Aubrey.

“Fred was a valued employee who had worked for the company for many years. The company’s thoughts are with his family and we would express our condolences to them. Lessons have been learned and procedures put in place to ensure a similar accident does not occur in future.”

Mr Aubrey’s family paid tribute to him as a loveable, energetic man who had six children, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In a statement, they said: “He carried on working out of desire, not necessity, and was employed for his skills and experience. He was a very active and healthy man. He was a loveable character and will forever be missed by his family and friends.”