A worker at a textiles factory in West Yorkshire suffered fatal injuries when an unstable stack of rag bales collapsed on him.
James Welka, 61, worked as a forklift-truck operator at WE Rawson Ltd’s warehouse in Castle Bank Mills, Wakefield. On 22 February 2010, he heard a loudspeaker announcement asking him to contact management.
He walked into the warehouse to borrow a mobile phone from another forklift operator so he could call a supervisor. He was standing next to a five-metre high column of rag bales when his colleague began operating a forklift nearby. When the vehicle moved the column suddenly collapsed towards the top of the truck. But the two top bales, each weighing more than 300kg, fell in the opposite direction and struck Mr Welka, who suffered serious head injuries. He died in hospital later the same day.
The HSE found that the bales had been stacked in vertical columns, which were inherently unstable, rather than using either a pyramid or block-stacking method. The company also failed to put measures in place to control pedestrian movements in the warehouse.
HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided had WE Rawson taken its duty of care towards its employees sufficiently seriously.
“The company was aware that the rag bales were unstable, as there was a history of them collapsing. There were simple and straightforward steps that could have been taken to ensure that the stability of the bales did not present a risk to pedestrian workers in the warehouse area. Those measures were not taken.”
WE Rawson appeared at Leeds Crown Court and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £15,839.
In mitigation, the firm said it subsequently carried out a fresh risk assessment, which has resulted in the implementation of new stacking techniques. It now monitors pedestrian activity to ensure that no vehicles are operating while people are walking past the stacks.
After the hearing, inspector Fletcher welcomed the company’s steps since the incident but added they cannot compensate for the loss of a life.
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