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Special Investigators - Season 2 Episode 3 - Concrete Fatality

A simple dismantling job went horribly wrong at Lyttleton Port, Christchurch when a concrete panel weighing four and a half tonnes tipped over, crushing a labourer against a wall.

Department of Labour health and safety inspector Bruce McLaren knows construction sites can be dangerous, and split second decisions can easily lead to serious injury, or in the worst scenario, death. This investigation is no exception.

On site in Lyttleton it is Bruce’s job to piece together the events that lead to the incident. Working with police and the victim’s colleagues, Bruce builds up a picture of what caused the horrific event to take place.

Interviews with site workers quickly establish that the concrete panel was left freestanding with no support while dismantling work took place around the panel. A supervisor had asked workers to remove the concrete panel’s securing bolts earlier a few days earlier as high winds prevented other work.

Once the winds had subsided work commenced around the concrete panel. One employee was working at the top of the panel grinding hook bolts to remove surrounding metal sheets. The victim was standing below when the unsecured concrete panel toppled over, crushing his head. A forklift truck had to be called in to remove the massive weight from the trapped worker. The worker was rushed to hospital in a critical condition.

During Bruce’s investigation, things go from bad to worse for the victim, and his family have to make the difficult decision to remove life support. These events vastly increase the importance of the investigation.

It becomes clear that, despite instructions to leave some securing bolts in the concrete panel, the supervisor did not follow instructions and workers followed their supervisor’s example. This left the concrete panel freestanding, literally waiting to fall over.

The company was eventually prosecuted for “failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees.” They were fined $75,000 and ordered to pay $60,000 of that to the victim’s family.

Bruce said the accident and subsequent prosecution left a clear message, “the chain is only as strong as its strongest link.”