Sister companies fined £75,000 for factory crush death
The failure of two aerospace companies to “pick up on the warning signs” following a near-miss at a Lancashire factory, was instrumental in the occurrence of a later incident, which had fatal consequences.
Preston Crown Court heard that Brookhouse Composites Ltd and its sister company Brookhouse Tooling Ltd operated out of the same premises in Darwen, where they manufactured tools for use in the aviation industry.
On 17 December 2008, Allan Sanderson, 50, and Gerald Powderley, 63, were helping three other workers to push a trolley containing 2.8 tonnes of steel tools into a large industrial oven, known as an autoclave, to be cured. The trolley was not wide enough to fit on the load-bearing rails inside the autoclave, leading to the common practice of placing the left-side wheels of the trolley on a rail and rolling the other side along metal walkway panels, which were not designed to carry the weight.
As the workers were pushing the trolley, one of the panels collapsed, causing the trolley to drop down. The tools slid off and trapped Mr Sanderson against the wall of the autoclave. Mr Powderley, who was stood on the platform at the entrance of the machine, was knocked backwards and his legs were pinned to the platform when the load fell. Mr Sanderson died in hospital owing to his injuries, while Mr Powderley suffered multiple fractures to his legs, foot and ankle, and also required skin grafts.
The HSE’s investigation found that the collapsed panel had been repaired by Brookhouse Tooling a month before the incident after becoming bent, but the repair method was inappropriate and the quality of the welding was poor.
A Prohibition Notice, which was issued to Brookhouse Composites the day after the incident, ordered a halt to the operation of autoclaves at the factory until suitable trolleys were used.
HSE inspector, Alex Farnhill, revealed both companies failed to identify that the method of work was dangerous, despite needing to make repairs to the panel the previous month after it had began sagging under the weight of loads. He said: “Allan Sanderson has, tragically, lost his life and Gerald Powderley is still very badly injured, two years after the incident, because neither of the companies responsible for their safety picked up on the warning signs.
“The walkway panels were bent out of shape over several months but no one appeared to be concerned about what was causing this. The poor choice of repair technique and standard of welding on the panel exacerbated the situation.
“This ultimately led to the collapse of the panel and the two workers being crushed. If the companies had thought more about the risks workers faced, then Mr Sanderson would still be alive today and Mr Powderley would not have been seriously injured.”
Brookhouse Composites, which employed Mr Sanderson, appeared in court on 25 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. The firm, which now trades as Kaman Composites UK Ltd, was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 in costs.
Mr Powderley’s employer Brookhouse Tooling, which now trades as Kaman Tooling Ltd, appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £25,000 with costs of £35,000.
In mitigation, both firms said they had no previous convictions and had cooperated with the HSE’s investigation.
Following the incident they worked together to carry out a fresh risk assessment and they now ensure that suitable trolleys are used that can fit on both loading rails.
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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.