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May 12, 2011

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Driver’s jaw shattered during dangerous unloading process

A recycling firm has been prosecuted for failing to protect its employees after four workers were injured in similar incidents.

Heavy-goods driver Dean Bridges had his jaw broken in several places and lost three teeth while attempting to open the rear door of a roll-on, roll-off container at Ampthill Metal Company Ltd’s site in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, on 22 October 2009.

Mr Bridges, 42, reversed the vehicle into the loading bay so he could tip metal waste out of the container. He walked round to the rear of the vehicle and removed the pin from the handle holding the rear door of the container shut. But the handle sprung out and struck him in the face due to the pressure from the load, which was resting against the door. He was unable to work for two months, or eat solid food for three months owing to his injuries.

HSE inspector, Emma Rowlands, explained that the waste metal inside the container moved around during transportation and leant against the rear door. The company was aware of the danger and had a system of work in place that required drivers to stand to the left of the vehicle and reach across to remove the pin, so if the doors flung open they could be out of the danger zone.

Drivers were advised on how to check if there was pressure on the door before unloading the metal. To do this they were instructed to check if the pin was easy to remove; if this was the case then it meant the doors were not subject to pressure. If the pin was difficult to remove, drivers were told to ask a crane operator to remove the part of the load that was leaning against the container door.

However, on this occasion the metal handle was longer than on other containers, which meant Mr Bridges needed to stand behind the vehicle to be able to reach past the handle to remove the pin.

This was the fourth time a member of staff had been injured after being struck by a vehicle door, or handle in similar incidents. The HSE visited the site in July 2002, June 2003, and April 2008 to investigate the previous incidents. On each occasion, it gave the company advice on how to create a safe system of work.

Inspector Rowlands told SHP that the incidents could have been avoided if the firm had installed a remote system to open the door, or used a screw or ratchet system that would open the door gradually. She explained that the existing method of work was unsuitable and was not properly supervised, and, following the latest incident, she decided to bring charges against the firm.

Said inspector Rowlands: “The risk of being struck by skip-container doors within the waste industry is well known. Mr Bridges suffered serious facial injuries as a result of this incident, which was entirely preventable.”
Ampthill Metal Company appeared at Bedford and Mid Beds Magistrates’ Court on 10 May and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £21,718 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it felt that it had a safe system of work in place and that it had done everything practicable to protect workers. But it has made further improvements by installing a secondary safety catch on the containers, which ensure the doors open slowly if there is pressure on the door.

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11 years ago

Did the HSE take any meaningful action after the third visit to site? I would guess probably not hence the nasty incident leading to visit number four.