The director of Waikato company Steelcon Construction Limited, Rodney Bishop, has been sentenced to four months home detention over the death of a worker who died after he was buried when a trench he was working in collapsed. SteelCon Construction was also fined $56,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $121,320.

Michael Haines, who was 34, died in May 2014. He was helping to install a concrete effluent transfer tank and pipes at a farm at Te Poi, Matamata at the time of the incident.

Mr Haines was clearing dirt in the area where the tank pit joined to the four-metre-deep pipe trench when the face of the trench collapsed and approximately five cubic metres of soil with an estimated weight of eight tonnes fell and buried him. Despite immediate efforts to rescue him he died.

WorkSafe New Zealand’s investigation found that the trench had not been shored up (by the installation of appropriate panels to prevent collapse). It had been cut with vertical sides and not “battered” (in other words it had not had its sides cut back at a safe slope to ensure the face remains stable).

There had also not been any geotechnical assessment of the site to check the stability of the soil before work began.

Both Mr Bishop and Steelcon Construction plead guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and were sentenced today in the Hamilton District Court. Mr Bishop was charged under sections 6, 49 and 56 and Steelcon Construction under sections 6 and 50(1)(a) of the HSE Act for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of Michael Haines while at work.

WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector, Keith Stewart, says Mr Haines death was a tragic reminder of the inherent risks of excavation work and the need to closely manage those risks. WorkSafe’s thoughts are with Michael Haines’s family.

“Anyone digging a four metre deep trench should be aware of the possibility of collapse and should take proper precautions against collapse – such as shoring or battering work.

“He was needlessly in harm’s way while at work. We know how to dig trenches safely – it’s not hard to take the necessary safety precautions,” says Keith Stewart.

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