The Highwaymen

Key Themes

  • Assumptions
  • Risk assessments
  • Safety culture
  • Unexpected situations
  • Perceived pressure

Target Audience

Supervisors/ Managers/ Operatives/ Anyone involved in trench excavation.


The job seems like a simple one, which is just as well because time (as always) is a luxury no one can afford. Simon needs his ganger, Jake, to fix a broken pipe by the end of the day, and as long as the plans are accurate, the weather doesn’t change, the traffic doesn’t build up and the police don’t tell them to move everything immediately to make way for a VIP, Jake and his colleague Des should be fine. Why then, in a matter of weeks, do Jake and Simon find themselves in court on corporate manslaughter charges?


Simon: OK. Access to the trench.

Jake: Don’t need steps for such a shallow trench.

Simon: No. You won’t need temporary lighting will you?

Jake: Not unless we spend all morning filling out this risk assessment.

Simon: Nearly done. You’ll inspect the site when you arrive and the trench when it’s dug yes?

Jake: Yes.

Simon: You won’t leave it unattended…

Jake: No.

Simon: You’re not shuttering it so don’t have to plan its removal…

Jake: And once we’ve repaired the pipe we’ll backfill and compact it. I have done this before.

Simon: I know, I know. But this bit of paper will cover our arses if there’s a problem, won’t it? Can you sign it? JAKES DOES SO.

Jake: I always do a dynamic risk assessment when I get onsite anyway.

Simon: I should hope so. How long do you think it’ll take?

Jake: (CHECKS HIS WATCH) Depends on where the pipe’s blocked. If we’re lucky we’ll finish it today.

Simon: If you’re lucky? I really need it finishing today.

Jake: I’ll see what I can do.

Simon: Good. Because if you can squeeze in a quick manhole cover job later on it’ll help clear the backlog. Here’s your permit to dig. I’ll be out on another job but you’ve got my mobile number.

Jake: Yeah alright, cheers.