A recycling firm has been fined £200,000 after one of its employees allowed a faulty telehandler to be used during a fatal lifting operation.
Ling Metals Ltd was contracted to spread 30 tonnes of rubber crumb, which was being used to lay a new horse-riding surface at Brambles Stables in Ramsgate, Kent. On 19 March 2007, the company fitted a loading bucket to a telehandler and began transporting the rubber across the site.
The telehandler driver dropped the load over a riding-ring fence and two of his colleagues began spreading the rubber with brushes. The machine was fitted with a safe-loading indicator, which signals if the vehicle is nearing its safe-load limit. But the indicator had not been properly calibrated and was therefore inoperative at the time.
The machine had a safe-load limit of 1.5 tonnes but no account had been taken of the weight of the loading bucket, which had been attached to the vehicle. The bucket weighed 450 kilos and each load weighed around one tonne, but this information was not made known to the driver.
In order to tip the rubber over the fence, the driver fully extended the vehicle’s boom but did not employ the machine’s hydraulic stabilisers, causing it to overbalance and tip forwards. At the same moment Darren Baker, who was one of the men spreading the rubber, walked across the path of the boom and was struck in the head by the loading bucket. He died in hospital two days later from his injuries.
The HSE was informed of the incident under RIDDOR on the same day as the incident, but was initially told there were only minor injuries, so it did not send an emergency response team to the site immediately. A few days later it was notified about the fatality and an inspector was immediately sent to the scene. On arrival he found the job had been completed using the faulty machine.
HSE inspector John Underwood discovered the machine’s previous safety certificate (called a Certificate of Thorough Examination) had expired prior to the incident. Although an engineer had visited on two separate occasions to inspect and repair the telehandler, he had been unable to rectify the defects, and instructed that the machine remain out of service until he was able to complete his examination. But a manager at Ling Metals mistakenly thought that the machine’s faults didn’t constitute a failure of the examination, and allowed the vehicle to be used at the stables.
Inspector Underwood said: “I would like to remind owners and operators of machines fitted with older-style safe load indicators that these need checking and recalibrating on a regular basis, as some older machines do not tell the operator when they have decalibrated.
“It is vital that the owner and operator have a robust procedure to ensure workers know how to correctly use the machine; how to recognise when it may be going out of calibration; and what to do about it. Each machine should be checked by plant fitters and maintained in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations.”
Ling Metals appeared at Canterbury Crown Court on 28 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg. 7(c) and 10(3) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulation 1998, for failing to identify the characteristics of lifting accessories to ensure their safe use, and for allowing faulty equipment to be used. It also pleaded guilty to a further charge of breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, in relation to finishing the job using the same machine. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £11,384 towards costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it took the machine out of service as soon as the HSE began its investigation and subsequently sold the machine once it gained a new safety certificate. The company also said it has tightened procedures to ensure that all machines pass examinations before they are used, and it also now ensures that operators are given proper information about load limits for each job. All operators have also been sent on a refresher training course to ensure they are familiar with safety procedures.
After the hearing, inspector Underwood added: “This was a wholly avoidable incident, which led to unnecessary loss of life. I hope this fine will be an example to those involved in the use of telehandlers that machine maintenance is critical to enable safe operation.”
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