Dead engineer's dad blasts Gerber Juice: 'Management involved...didn't have a clue what was going on'

Photo: Daniel Wehner/Flickr

The father of a young engineer who was killed by falling pipework during the botched decommissioning of a Gerber Juice factory in South Wales, UK, has attacked the managers responsible, insisting they 'didn't have a clue what was going on'.

The firm was fined £80,000 and also ordered to pay pay £75,000 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the UK Health and Safety at Work &c. Act 1974.

Gavin Bedford, 24, an electro-mechanical engineer from Porthcawl, was helping to dismantle and demolish a section of industrial pipework at the Gerber Juice Company Ltd premises in Llantrisant on June 16 2010 when the structure, weighing around 300kg, collapsed and struck him.

Gerber Juice (now trading as Refresco Gerber) was prosecuted after a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Wales Police discovered it had failed to plan and resource the decommissioning work adequately.

Bedford, who was also a surfing and British trial-biking champion, sustained critical head injuries and died three days later in hospital. The court heard that the young engineer could have been lying injured for up to 40 minutes before he was found trapped and unconscious.

Gerber Juice chose not to hire independent contractor

Last Friday Newport Crown Court heard that Gerber had closed their Llantrisant factory in 2010 and moved production to Bridgwater in Somerset, England. Bedford was one of a small number of staff temporarily kept on at the site to assist specialist contractors in removing plant and machinery from the factory.

The HSE said that, instead of appointing an independent contractor to manage the decommissioning, Gerber chose to plan, manage and monitor the project themselves, and overlooked hazardous tasks including the removal of overhead pipes and their supporting structure, work that was then devolved onto the in-house engineers.

Consequently, prosecutors told the court that Bedford’s work had not been adequately planned, risk assessed, communicated or monitored by management, and that the safety systems Gerber used to manage its specialist contractors were not used to manage its own engineering staff on the same site.

Moreover, the joint investigation established that staff had no written plan showing them how the pipework should have been dismantled: bolts and structural elements were removed in an unsafe sequence and this led to the collapse that caused Bedford's death.

A production manager at the factory had been put in charge of the decommissioning work, despite never having done similar work before or receiving formal training, while a safety officer only visited once or twice a fortnight and was based in Somerset.

HSE inspector slams Gerber's 'basic corporate failure'

Speaking after Gerber Juice was sentenced, HSE inspector Liam Osborne, said: “Gavin Bedford, a young hard-working and highly regarded engineer, was killed because of Gerber’s basic corporate failure to plan, manage and monitor a construction project. “Any demolition or dismantling work must be set down in writing and strictly monitored – as the law requires. It is also basic common sense.

“If Gerber had given enough time at the beginning to think through what needed to be done, and how it should be done, then Gavin would still be here today.”

Nigel Bedford, the young engineer's father, said: “This type of work was obviously dangerous and Gerber should have looked after Gavin properly. There was no planning for the job and the area wasn’t cordoned off. The management involved in the work didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

A spokesperson for Gerber Juice told BeverageDaily.com this morning: “Gavin’s death was a terrible tragedy and a source of the utmost regret for us. He was a valued employee with a bright future who is fondly remembered.

“We accept the court ruling today, and are committed to ensuring that such an incident could not happen again.”

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