Refuse firm fined £250,000 over reversing fatality
A waste company’s “mixed messages” on safety may have contributed to an incident in which the driver of a refuse-collection vehicle reversed over a female pedestrian and fatally injured her.
Team Waste (Southern) Ltd was fined £250,000 on 26 April for breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, a month after it was found guilty at Lewes Crown Court over the incident, which led to the death of 61-year-old Anne Smith, from Brighton.
The managing director of the company, Allan Taylor, was cleared last month of the same charge, by virtue of s37 of the HSWA. Speaking to the BBC in March after the jury had convicted the company, Ms Smith’s daughter, Amanda Hoxha, said she hoped the company would receive a “massive fine” but welcomed the quashing of the charge against Mr Taylor, who she described as a “really nice man” who had also suffered.
Anne Smith was hit by a refuse vehicle as it reversed up a pedestrianised street in Brighton city centre, at 6.20am on 5 March 2007. The driver, Colin Bullard, was working with a trained banksman (reversing assistant) who remained in the truck as Bullard reversed up the street. They did not realise they had struck Ms Smith until her body lay about three metres in front of the vehicle. She died later in hospital as a result of her injuries.
The HSE investigation found that the vehicle’s rear blind spot covered an area of about 4m wide and extended 50m back. The vehicle also had defective CCTV at the rear. The audible reversing siren was functional, but it had been deactivated as the driver believed the use of such alarms was prohibited before 7am.
The company pleaded not guilty, as the driver had operated against its official policy in reversing without assistance of a banksman and it claimed it monitored drivers three times a week to ensure they were adhering to instructions. However, Principal Inspector Russell Adfield told SHP there was evidence that the act of drivers reversing without banksmen was a frequent occurrence.
The company argued that the decision to switch off the audible reversing alarm was based on conflicting guidance from other bodies that advised against the use of such devices between 11pm and 7am. But Inspector Adfield said if a certain safety measure can’t be used for other reasons, “so much more the need for a banksman”.
He also said the company had given out mixed messages to employees by insisting on two-men crews during weekday collections but allowing one-man crews to operate at weekends. Inspector Adfield confirmed the HSE’s belief that this was a contributing factor to the incident, as it justified to workers the use of one-man crews.
Describing the fine as sending a very strong message to the industry, Inspector Adfield nevertheless warned that even though technological devices can aid safety, “the use of a banksman is, by far, the most effective method of ensuring safety” in incidents involving reversing vehicles.
He also warned that it is not enough for companies to have policies in place – they must also ensure that workers are adhering to them.
In addition to the fine, Team Waste (Southern) Ltd was ordered to pay costs of £50,000. Colin Bullard was fined in 2008 for driving without due care and attention but was cleared by a jury at Hove Crown Court of causing death by dangerous driving.
With employees who drive for business more likely to be killed at work than deep sea divers or coal miners, driver safety is a vital business consideration.
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