Coroner issues safety warning after HS2 site death

A coroner has issued a safety warning about drilling and pipe dispensing after a 71-year-old man died at an HS2 site in Birmingham last year.

Charlie Harper suffered serious abdominal and chest injuries after being struck by the end of a polyethylene coiled pipe on 27 April 2023. The tail of the pipe had not been secured to its coil trailer and sprung when stored energy was released at the end of dispensing.

Harper’s company Harper Services had been horizontal directional drilling on a Balfour Beatty-Vinci site, including inserting a 180mm coiled pipe through a pre-drilled 100 metre hole. Harper died a day after the industrial accident.

Following an inquest into Harper’s death, coroner James Bennett has now issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report, warning that more ought to be done to ensure coiled pipes are not dispensed without their tails being secured.

The public report is addressed to the president of the Pipeline Industries Guild and the chair of the British Drilling Society, although copies have also been sent to Balfour Beatty-Vinci, the Health and Safety Executive and West Midlands Police among others.

“A material number of drilling and pipe-dispensing companies have in the past, and continue to, dispense coiled pipe without the use of any method of securing the tail end of the pipe coil, contrary to trailer operating manual instructions,” the report states.

“The use of exclusion zones may be insufficient alone, and provide a false sense of security, to guard against the risk of a worker being struck by the tail end of a coiled pipe springing in an unpredictable way when stored energy is released at the final stage of dispensing.”

Bennett said that the lack of securing mechanism had “contributed to Mr Harper’s death”, noting that the operating manual for the trailer, a method statement and a risk assessment had all identified that the coil should be secured.

“It appears to me that a number of drilling/pipe-dispensing companies who do not always seek to secure the tail end of pipe coil during dispensing, are likely to be members of either the Pipeline Industries Guild and/or British Drilling Association.

“Both organisations explain on their respective websites an aim is to improve the health and safety of its members. Both organisations are likely to be in a position to take action to alert their members to the risk.

“In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken, you are in a position to take preventative action, and therefore in the circumstances it is my statutory duty to report to you.”

Harper’s daughter Leah Howe backed the coroner’s warning, saying: “The family do not want anyone else to suffer injury. Therefore, we want the safety alert to be broadcasted to ensure safety to all others on site.”

The Pipeline Industries Guild and the British Drilling Association did not respond to requests for comment.

An HS2 spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the recent ruling by the coroner, that the death of Charles Harper was accidental. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues, as well as anyone who has been affected by this tragic incident.”

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