CAMBS: Environment Agency in court next month over death of crane operator

THE Environment Agency is facing criminal charges over the death of one of its crane operators who drowned in a freezing Fen drain.

The EA will appear at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court next month charged with three serious breaches of health and safety.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that legal proceedings had been instigated following yesterday’s inquest into the death of Simon Wenn.

The 43-year-old, from Three Holes, drowned after the 28-tonne dragline crane he was operating plunged into the Counter Drain at Mepal on December 8, 2010.

HSE inspector Paul Carter said: “We are alleging that more could have been done, and should have been done, to curtail risk.”

The HSE allege that the EA broke the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 by not doing everything “reasonably practicable” to protect their employees.

The charges also allege that work equipment was not suitable and the lifting operation of the crane had not been properly planned.

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Mr Carter said: “The HSE has instigated legal proceedings against the Environment Agency for offences under Health and Safety legislation.

“The first hearing is due to take place at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court on July 19.”

Mr Wenn’s colleague Basil Kent broke down yesterday as he told the inquest how he could do nothing but watch as the crane toppled into the freezing waters.

Inquest jurors heard that the crane was carrying out a procedure to move a timber mat when it slid into the drain.

HSE Investigating Inspector Stephen Faulkner told Huntingdon Law Courts that the crane had a 19m boom, an 8.5 tonne counterweight and a dredging bucket. He said that, since 2011, the EA had used “different systems”.

Geoff Brighty, central area manager for the Environment Agency, said both Mr Wenn and Mr Kent were fully competent and qualified crane operators.

Mr Wenn had more than six years of experience, while Mr Kent had been an Environment Agency worker for more than 40 years, he said.

The inquest also heard that the pair had not been supervised during their seven weeks of work desilting the Old Bedford River.

Mr Brighty said: “Simon was in overall charge of the day-to-day operation. He was the person on site.”

A verdict of accidental death was recorded.

An EA spokesman said: “We will be looking in detail at the findings of the inquest and fully co-operating with all investigations related to this tragic accident.”