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August 7, 2011

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Planning omission exposed in unloading fatality

A difficult lifting and handling operation, which ended in the death of a dad-to-be, could have been prevented if the undertaking of it had been properly planned, an HSE inspector has claimed.

Alan Winters, a 28-year-old crane driver, was killed when he and a group of colleagues attempted to unload a four-tonne crate from a shipping container at DavyMarkham Ltd’s factory in Darnall, Sheffield, on 15 July 2008.
Sheffield Crown Court heard the firm was expecting the arrival of the container with two crates inside. To make the unloading of the crates easier, the container was lifted using an overhead crane and a four-legged chain attachment running from the back of the lorry holding the container.
Despite anticipating unloading difficulties, an initial attempt was made to lift the larger, five-tonne crate with a forklift truck that only had a four-tonne capacity.
This method was eventually aborted, at which point the site manager left to carry out a risk assessment and find a safe way of getting the container from the lorry to the ground. However, no formal instructions were given to the workers to stop their efforts to unload the crates while he was away.
As a result, the group continued to make more unsafe and unsuccessful attempts to unload the first crate. They eventually did so by inserting the forks of the lift truck under the crate, raising it ever so slightly off the floor, and ‘sledging’ it out.
The shipping container was then raised further to give a clear view of the second crate, which was at the back of the container and set sideways. A similar attempt to drag it out was stopped when the workers heard the crate starting to crack.
HSE inspector Carol Downes explained what happened next: “It was then discussed, and a decision was made to remove the lifting chains at the front two corners of the container, raise the rear of the container on the remaining two chains, and drag the crate out using the forklift truck and slings, and aided by gravity. Mr Winters had climbed on the removed crate to take off the first chain and had jumped on the back of the forklift to remove the second chain.”
However, the forklift reversed too far and tilted up over the lip of the container, trapping Mr Winters against the container roof. He was eventually cut free and taken to hospital, but died as a result of severe crush injuries.
Inspector Downes said the incident was “utterly preventable if proper assessment and planning had been carried out before unloading was attempted. None of the managers or supervisors thought to stop the work until a risk assessment was done, or safe procedure found.”

She listed a number of possible methods that the company should have considered to unload the crates, including the use of: a crane; portable hydraulic skids; a manual pallet lifter; rollers inserted underneath the crate to roll it out; and a jack system to lift the crate out from the rear.

Appearing on 4 July before Sheffield magistrates, DavyMarkham Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was sentenced at the city’s Crown Court on 1 August, and fined £33,333, with £49,247 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it made a prompt admission of guilt and had no previous convictions. It pointed out that the circumstances of the equipment arriving in the closed-top container were unusual, and added that a risk assessment was being written at the time of the incident.

To prevent a similar occurrence, the company has trained all its employees in what to do if an abnormal, or unpredicted occurrence takes place. It now prohibits work starting until all employees involved in the task have read and signed the risk assessment.

Mr Winters’ partner, Laurie Swift, gave birth to their son just six weeks after his death.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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12 years ago

The family’s responses are on the Sheffield Star website.

12 years ago

i really am struggling to believe the “site manager left to do a risk asessment etc….” more like “nothing to do with me guv, i wasnt there “. A dynamic risk assessment should have been done on the spot at the time, not from behind a desk, the hse should have persued this with more vigour.

12 years ago

What a catalogue of errors. Surely the fine should have been substancially more for such basic and obvious mistakes.