FAMILIES fighting for compensation following the death of four bridge workers will take the firms blamed for the tragedy to court in March.

Relatives of the dead men are pursuing civil action against Darlington engineering group Yarm Road Limited - formerly Kvaerner Cleveland Bridge - and Costain Limited, of Berkshire.

Andy Rodgers, 40, of Middlebrough, Paul Stewart, 24, of Newcastle, Ronnie Hill, 39, of Glasgow, and Jeff Williams, 42, of Newport, died when they fell from a gantry while working on strengthening the Avonmouth Bridge, near Bristol, on September 8, 1999.

In December 2001, the companies were ordered jointly to pay a £500,000 fine, plus £525,000 costs, for breach of health and safety regulations.

The fine was one of the largest imposed under health and safety legislation.

At the time, the families of the dead men condemned the sentence as "disgraceful" and vowed to pursue a civil case for compensation against the companies.

The case is due to be heard at Bristol Crown Court on March 10.

A spokeswoman for Yarm Road Ltd said last night: "As a responsible company, the safety of each and every person on our construction sites is taken very seriously indeed.

"Since the accident, we have taken action to re-evaluate the communication and implementation of our safety procedures, with increased levels of training and employee participation in both risk analysis and the preparation of method statements.

"We have taken on board the lessons learnt from the analysis of the Avonmouth accident and are committed that everyone in the company will strive to ensure that such a terrible accident never happens again on any construction site."