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January 5, 2011

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Botched planning highlighted in manual-handling fatality

An agency worker was crushed to death by a stack of glass he was helping to unload on his first day at work.

Vitalijus Orlovas, 29, who was originally from Lithuania, arrived at retail-display firm Arken PoP’s site in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, on the morning of 18 August 2008, a court heard. He was part of a team of agency workers tasked with removing sheets of glass from a shipping container.

The sheets of glass, which weighed more than 100kg each, were delivered in a standard shipping container instead of an open-top unit. According to David Head, HSE Principal Inspector for Cambridgeshire, this meant the sheets could not be completely lifted out via mechanical means.

The inspector explained that the team initially used suckers on a machine to raise the glass, before prising the sheets from the pile and manually lifting the glass out of the container. The sheets were being stored upright against the container when they fell on Mr Orlovas, who died at the scene from crush injuries.

The subsequent HSE investigation determined that poor planning was key – not only in terms of the job but in how the glass was stacked prior to being transported to the UK from China.

Inspector Head said the company had received one similar load several months previously but didn’t plan the manual-handling task until the load arrived at its site. Instead, explained the inspector, the company should have thought ahead when ordering the delivery to ensure it managed the unloading task in a safe manner.

The HSE investigation also revealed that the agency workers were not fully trained to carry out the task. Said Inspector Head: “This was a complex manual-handling operation, and they needed more training in how to do that, who should do what, and how the whole process should work.”

He continued: “[The job] should have been properly planned and staff should have been fully trained in what to do. If there had been a safe system of work for this job, this tragic death may not have happened.”

Although the agency was not prosecuted, the inspector said the case also highlighted the need for agencies to understand the hazards that workers may encounter, and the type of work client companies are planning.

Arken PoP Ltd pleaded guilty at Peterborough Crown Court on 20 December to a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £80,000 plus £16,914 in costs.

Following the case, Arken’s managing director, Tracy Scutt, told SHP: “Arken sincerely regrets the tragic death of Mr Orlovas and we would like to express our deepest sympathy to Mr Orlovas’ family. We completely accept the judgement and have fully cooperated with the HSE at all stages of the inquiry. Since this tragic incident, Arken has completed a full review of all manual-handling procedures and reinforced this with extensive manual-handling training.”

The company had no previous offences.

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