A Barnstaple contractor has been fined following the incident which saw the 65-year-old victim suffer three fractured vertebrae, broken ribs and sternum, lung damage and a head wound.
He was in intensive care for three weeks, has yet to make a full recovery and is unlikely to work again.
Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court heard that his employer, G Loosemore and Son Ltd, had been contracted to build a two-storey extension at the rear of a cottage.
The ground worker was engaged in excavation work on land that sloped steeply upwards.
An HSE investigation found that his excavator was working on a level of ground at approximately roof height with the cottage in order to dig out material to make way for a terrace area and exterior steps.
He needed to change the excavator’s bucket during the work but stumbled as he got down from the cab.
He tried to steady himself by grabbing hold of a handle attached to the lift arm, but it came away in his hand and he fell approximately five metres down a slope and onto the path behind the cottage.
He hit his head on a large stone as he fell and was knocked unconscious.
The HSE established that there was no edge protection to prevent a fall to the area behind the cottage, and no steps were taken to support the excavation prior to the later installation of a supporting wall.
The investigation also discovered that there had been several falls of material from the main excavation area before the worker fell which should have served as a warning, but no action was taken.
G Loosemore & Son Ltd, of Barnstaple, Devon, was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay £11,210 in costs after pleading guilty to safety breaches.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Annette Walker said: “The dangers of working at height without adequate edge protection, and the risks associated with excavation collapse, are very clear. Yet companies and individuals continue to take risks and cut corners.
“In this case, significant harm occurred in respect of a fall from height. G Loosemore & Son Ltd could and should have done more to prevent the fall from the top of the bank, but this was only addressed as a consequence of the incident.
“There were a number of collapses of material prior to the fall that should have prompted the company to take earlier action, but these warnings were ignored. It illustrated there were serious risks, but they were disregarded.”