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August 4, 2011

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Delivery firm denounced for “sustained and systemic” failure

A courier company has been fined £150,000 after a delivery truck reversed into a worker and crushed his head against the brick wall of a loading bay.

Simon Mason, 22, required months of constant care, underwent several operations, and was off work for nearly a year as a result of the injuries he sustained in the incident at an Essex depot of Tuffnells Parcels Express Ltd, in the early hours of 23 March last year. He still suffers some long-term effects.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Mr Mason was working on a night shift as a warehouse porter at the depot in West Horndon, near Brentwood. An articulated 45ft HGV trailer was being reversed into an open loading bay while he waited to unload it.

Noticing that the trailer was not quite in line with the bay, and under the impression that it had stopped reversing, he put his head around the rear of the trailer to shout instructions to the driver. Just as he did so, the trailer backed further into the bay and crushed his head against the wall.

The HSE investigation revealed that Tuffnells had failed to properly assess, control, or manage the risks arising from movements of vehicles and equipment at its West Horndon distribution centre. It also failed to provide a safe system of work.

Inspector Glyn Davies told SHP that a specific risk assessment had been carried out at the West Horndon depot but was insufficient in dealing with the risks to workers.

The yard was also severely potholed and there was no high-level lighting above the bay. The poor state of the yard meant that drivers often had to “rock” trailers out of potholes in order to manoeuvre them into the bays, a practice that had involved some collisions with containers in the past.

An Improvement Notice was also issued on the driver’s vehicle. Inspector Davies explained: “The driver’s cab door was broken. If it was shut, he was effectively locked in his cab. So he was reversing with the door open, which meant his mirror was no good to him.”

Deficiencies in training were also revealed. There was no record that Mr Mason had undergone any induction training, and, according to the inspector, other employees said they had received no health and safety training.

The company pointed out to the court that its audits had picked up many of these issues but accepted that its systems had failed to correct them. Sentenced on 1 August, Tuffnells was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £19,000 in costs after admitting a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA.

Summing up, the judge recognised Tuffnells’ “sustained and systemic failure to manage health and safety at the depot, which included inadequate risk assessments and safe systems of work, a failure to implement clear and safe work instructions and procedures, deficient training at all levels, and a failure to maintain vehicles and the loading-bay area in safe condition”.

Emphasising the crucial importance of vehicle and pedestrian segregation in workplace-transport operations, inspector Davies said: “This firm could have put in place a physical separation between the porters, moving vehicles and the loading bays, and a safe way for porters and drivers to communicate with each other. None of these measures was evident and, so, a worker was seriously hurt for no good reason.”

Three months prior to this incident, the company was convicted over an incident at a separate depot, in which a worker was injured falling out of a lorry that unexpectedly pulled away from a loading bay. It received a £35,000 fine.

Last year in Britain, 17 workers were killed and more than 530 suffered major injury after being struck by moving vehicles while at work.

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