Earlcoate Construction based at Folds Farm in Godshill was fined £50k after work experience boy seriously injured in tractor accident
A teenager on work experience whose leg was crushed under a flipped tractor used his own belt to fashion a tourniquet, a court heard.
Tom Cutler, who was 16 at the time, feared he would die in the accident at Fordingbridge firm Earlcoate Construction & Plant Hire, and also tried to cut his leg free with broken glass from the tractor window.
He suffered life-changing injuries and has had seven operations including having a steel rod fitted from his hip to his knee, along with skin grafts.
Earlcoate was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive, and fined £50,000 at Southampton Crown Court.
The court heard that the owner of the company, Alister Cutts, was approached by friend David Cutler to see if son Tom could carry out work experience after finishing his GCSEs.
Prosecutor Duncan Milne said the youngster suffered serious injuries while driving a Ford tractor unsupervised on the site, which left him in intensive care for three days.
He said there had been “a failure to take into account the needs of a young person who was working [for Mr Cutts]”.
This was due to the absence of a risk assessment for the youngster, the fact supervision was not assigned to one set employee and a lack of firm direction on what his role entailed.
Keys to the tractor were not kept in a locked safe, as they were meant to be when not in use, he added, but instead left inside the vehicle.
Tom, who planned to study vehicle management at Sparsholt College, had an interest in mechanics, the court heard.
While at the farm he would watch the company’s three mechanics working on its plant fleet.
He would wash the vehicles and was often asked to move smaller vehicles around the site, Mr Milne said.
The accident on 3rd August 2021 occurred around 1.30pm, the court heard, after the teenager had taken rubbish in the tractor about 400 metres from the workshops to a dumping area.
On his return journey, which was downhill, Tom struggled to control the tractor.
Mr Milne said Tom appeared to have turned too sharply at a corner, and the door to the tractor had swung open, throwing him out.
The tractor flipped and landed on his left leg, pinning him to the ground.
In an attempt to stem bleeding, Tom removed his belt to create a tourniquet before digging at the soil underneath in an attempt to free his leg.
He was discovered by walkers, who raised the alarm with the emergency services, and the fire brigade used hydraulic jacks to lift the tractor off him.
Mr Milne said Tom was taken to Southampton General Hospital suffering a punctured lung, chest trauma and open femur fracture, and underwent a 22-hour operation before spending three days in intensive care.
The traumatic incident had resulted in him being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he had been forced to postpone his college course for a year.
A statement read to the court said Tom had felt “stressed and embarrassed”, adding he was more self-conscious as his scars had affected his confidence.
The court heard he had undergone 18 months of physiotherapy but was no longer able to play cricket or football to his previous ability level.
He was still in pain and may need further operations in the future, Mr Milne explained.
Statements from Tom’s parents, which were read to the court by Mr Milne, said the accident had been “traumatic” for them.
Mr Cutler said he had trusted his son would be looked after and added life had become “more stressful than before”.
Mrs Cutler, who had to massage his leg daily as well as helping him with tasks such as getting out of the bath, added the accident had a “massive impact” on their son, who had been left feeling vulnerable.
Speaking after the case Mr Cutler said: “Tom was only 16 when this incident happened, and it’s changed his life forever.
“Had it not been for his own bravery and the amazing work by the emergency services we could have lost him.
“Tom acted quickly and used his belt as a tourniquet to stem bleeding, he punched out the cab window to check his leg and managed to break off a wing mirror to enable him to turn off the tractor and prevent a fire from fuel that was escaping.
“He spent a month in hospital and has undergone seven different operations but can’t do the things he used to do. He was a keen mountain biker and cricket player but that has all stopped.
“He doesn’t sleep properly and is more anxious, he had to put his education on hold for a year and we as a whole family have found it extremely tough.”
Defending, Malcolm Galloway said his client expressed “deep remorse” to the child and his parents, with whom he was said to “go back a long time”.
He had employed the youngster “as a favour to his father”, he said.
Mr Galloway said Earlcoate was “an exceptionally well-run company” with around 80 employees, and had comprehensive health-and-safety and risk-assessment policies, with an external audit carried out each year.
He admitted no-one had been solely allocated to supervise the boy, who was asked to help with basic tasks.
He accepted there were occasions when he was allowed to move a forklift or lower the boom of a digger, but only under close supervision.
After the accident Mr Cutts had cooperated fully with the investigation, and employees were spoken to about keys being locked away when not in use.
Mr Galloway said the company had a good health-and-safety record, with no previous convictions.
The court heard Mr Cutts had been invoiced for £24,000 by the HSE as a “fee for intervention”.
Imposing the £50,000 fine, which must be paid within 18 months, along with costs of £9,233, Judge Peter Henry said: “This was a tragic incident with traumatic consequences.
“He suffered severe injuries in dreadful circumstances, thinking they might be his last.
“One can only imagine the effect upon him.
“Very sadly Mr Cutts’ good turn to help a friend led to a situation where there was quite inadequate supervision of Tom.
“The employment was very casual and there was no specific work – he was helping out.
“I accept Tom was asked to operate some machinery, but this was for short distances and under supervision.
“A lack of supervision and firm direction meant he may have gained the impression it was acceptable for him to take the tractor on this occasion, but it wasn’t – and proper supervision would have prevented it.”
After the hearing, HSE inspector Nicola Pinckney said: “Tom is lucky the outcome was not worse. This was due to his quick thinking, the fact he was found in time by passers-by and the outstanding work carried out by the emergency services and those in hospital providing his care.
“The incident could so easily have been avoided by understanding the risks involved with employing young people. This could have been achieved by carrying out a suitable risk assessment and putting in place appropriate information, instruction, and training to both Tom and those working with him, and most importantly, ensuring adequate supervision was in place to ensure correct control measures and safe working practices were implemented.
“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”