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April 19, 2011

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Fatality investigation uncovers risk-assessment flaws

An engineering firm has been fined £40,000 after an employee was crushed to death while making repairs to a plant vehicle.

Mark Palmer, 45, was working at Hydraline Engineering Ltd’s factory at Wells Farm, Stafford, when he was found dead on 7 March 2008. The company modifies construction equipment such as excavators, and Mr Palmer was installing a third line on to a wheeled loader.

CCTV footage showed that he was working alone under the vehicle’s arms when the hydraulic system lost pressure, causing the loading arm to fall and crush him against the vehicle frame. A colleague found his body a few hours later.

The HSE’s investigation found that the firm had not carried out a sufficient risk assessment as it failed to specify how workers should safely support the hydraulic loading arm. It also discovered that Mr Palmer had not been given adequate training on how to work on hydraulic machinery and, as a result, he was unaware of the risks involved.

The company was issued a Prohibition Notice on 3 April 2008, which required it to stop carrying out maintenance on wheeled loaders until an adequate risk assessment had been undertaken.

HSE inspector, Wayne Owen, told SHP that the incident could have been avoided if metal supports had been placed over the machine’s piston cylinders to prevent the hydraulic arm from being able to drop. He said: “It is a tragedy for Mr Palmer’s family that his death could have been prevented if Hydraline Engineering Ltd had taken the time to properly consider the risks.

“Had the company provided a suitable load-tested support device, this would, in conjunction with a safe system of work, have stopped the loading arm falling on to Mr Palmer, and prevented his death.”

Hydraline Engineering appeared at Stafford Crown Court on 18 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg. 3(1) of the MHSWR. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it had a previously unblemished heath and safety record and it fully cooperated with the investigation. It said it regretted the incident and it has not carried out work of this nature since Mr Palmer’s death.

Inspector Owen added: “When carrying out work under hydraulically-supported loads, it is vital that a thorough risk assessment is carried out beforehand and that suitable control measures are taken to minimise the significant dangers created by this type of work.”

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