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August 25, 2011

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Worker seriously injured by falling object from unstable stack

A factory worker still endures constant pain from the injuries he suffered three years ago when a 600kg bag of ammonium nitrate fell on him at a fertiliser factory in Middlesbrough.

Robert Dearlove, 32, was part of a team clearing a spillage after several bags of ammonium nitrate fell from a stack at Fertiliser Solutions Ltd’s warehouse on 29 April 2008. The remaining bags were stacked front to back and three high, and the men noticed that two of the bags on the top tier were leaning to one side. But before they attended to the uneven stacks they began removing the fallen bags by hooking them on to the forks of a forklift truck.

Having hooked up the last of the fallen bags, Mr Dearlove turned around with his back to the stack, and one of the bags from the third tier fell and struck him on the back. He suffered a fractured right thigh, ligament damage in his left leg, and a serious back injury, which required him to wear a back brace for five months, before having surgery. He still suffers from chronic back pain and has limited movement, and has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

HSE inspector Catherine Rimmer told SHP that the company didn’t have suitable control measures in place to ensure that bags did not fall on workers. She explained that the incident could have been avoided if a supervisor had inspected the stability of the remaining stacks before allowing workers to begin clearing the spillage.

Inspector Rimmer said: “Although the company had a risk assessment for the bag store, which had identified bags falling from the stacks as a hazard, the control measures were simply too generic and made no reference to any safe working procedures.

“Had the two bags that remained on the third layer of the stack, and which were seen leaning, been removed with a forklift truck before allowing workers into the area to clear up the spilled product, Mr Dearlove would not have been injured.

“The incident highlights the importance for all companies in the fertiliser industry to ensure that they have effective arrangements in place for the safe stacking and de-stacking of fertiliser bags and for dealing with bag falls from stacks.”

Fertiliser Solutions appeared at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on 23 August and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg. 3(1)(a) of the MHSWR 1999. It was fined a total of £10,500 and ordered to pay £12,411 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it now uses a pyramid system to stack the bags, which means they are stacked front to back and with the row above stacked side to side, in order to provide an interlocking stacking system. It has changed its procedures to ensure that a supervisor checks the state of the stacks daily. In the event of a spillage, workers are forbidden from approaching the stacks until the supervisor checks that they are stable.

Workers have also been provided with telescopic poles to enable them to stand a safe distance away when removing, or adjusting the position of the bags.

The company had no previous convictions, and has subsequently worked with the HSE and the Agricultural Industries Confederation to develop industry good practice for safe stacking procedures.

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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