A dumper truck driver lay dead on a building site for two days before his body was discovered by colleagues.
David White suffered catastrophic injuries when his vehicle over-turned and crushed him as he worked alone on a weekend shift on a renovation project at an isolated farm property.
When he was found the dad-of-three had a handful of grass in his fist – suggesting he had not died instantly in the incident.
The details of Mr White’s death were revealed at Swansea Court Court when the director of the company which employed him and the project manager responsible for the renovation appeared in the dock for breaching health and safety laws.
The 38-year-old died in October 2016 while working at West Aberthaw Farm in the Vale of Glamorgan on a project being undertaken on behalf of former Cardiff Blues and All Blacks rugby player Xavier Rush’s renovation firm X-Stream Properties.
Simon Morgan, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said a firm called Pro’Conn was in charge of the redevelopment, while project manager and principle designer was Graham Kuhlmann.
Pro’Conn has since gone into liquidation, and was represented in court by its director Kevin March.
The prosecutor told the court that the renovation project at the farm had been running behind schedule at the time following major problems with drainage works, and people were working weekend shifts to catch up.
On the weekend of October 1 and 2 Mr White was working alone at the farm, using a dumper truck to move rubble and spoil around the site in readiness for the next stage of the redevelopment. It had been agreed he would be paid £50 for the extra shift.
Mr Morgan said it was not know exactly what happened that weekend but at 8am on Monday, October 3, fellow workers arrived at the site to find their colleague “in the immediate vicinity” of an overturned dumper truck.
The court heard he had either jumped or been thrown from the vehicle, and then crushed as it rolled over.
The prosecutor said grass was found gripped in Mr White’s fingers which suggested he had not been killed instantly in the incident, which had probably happened on the Saturday.
A post mortem later found he had died of traumatic abdominal injuries
Mr Morgan said Mr White had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident, and that the wearing of a belt was an essential element of the safety of such vehicles.
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Following the death the HSE issued a closure notice for the construction site, and launched an investigaiton.
The court heard the subsequent inquiry uncovered a catalogue of safety failings and lack of proper plans and systems at the site, and that when safety concerns had been raised in the past they had not been acted upon. There had also been a number of “near misses” involving vehicles which had not led to action.
The court heard it also emerged Mr White was one of eight people working on the project who were allowed to operate the dumper truck even though they were not qualified or “ticketed” to do so.
Mr White had been employed by Pro’Conn, and had worked for the firm on previous jobs.
Mr Morgan said both Kuhlmann and March had responsibility for safety on the build, and that those responsibilities were non-delegatable. He said there had been “insufficient monitoring and supervision” on the site, which was a failing both defendants shared.
Kuhlmann, aged 48, of Parcau Road, Bridgend, and 59-year-old March, of Fields Park Road, Pontcanna, Cardiff, had both pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act when they appeared in the dock for sentencing.
James Ageros, for Kulhmann, said his client wished to convey his condolences to the family of Mr White for what he called the “human tragedy” that happened.
He said it was significant the defendant had worked in the construction business for more than 30 years without any health and safety issues, and it had been Kulhamann’s interest in working on listed-buildings that had led him to become involved in the Aberthaw project.
Mr Ageros said being a self-employed designer and project manager had never been a particularly lucrative business but the current Covid-19 meant there was little work around, and Mr Kulhmann was now in significant debt.
Kevin Seal, for March, said his client’s early guilty plea in the case was a sign of his genuine remorse.
He said it was accepted that though “matters had been left to others” his client had had “ultimate responsibility” for safety at the site.
The court heard Pro’Conn went in liquidation following the incident and March has now retired, but he has equity of some three-quarters of a million pounds in various properties.
Judge Paul Thomas QC told the defendants that it had been their business to know what was going on at the site, and they had responsibility for the health and safety of workers and visitors.
He said: “In law the buck stops with each of you.”
The judge said the offending crossed the custody threshold, and he hoped the sentences he was about to impose would send out a message to others with the same responsibilities that the courts take such matters seriously.
Kulhamann was sentenced to 21 weeks in prison suspended for 12 months, and March to 32 weeks in prison suspended for 12 months.
Kulhamann was ordered to pay £5,000 towards prosecution costs, and March £46,270 in costs – the judge said the differing amounts did not reflect the defendants’ levels of blameworthiness but rather their ability to pay.
Judge Thomas offered family of Mr White his sincere condolences.