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January 28, 2010

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Inadequately supported vehicle falls on airport worker

An airport services company failed to carry out maintenance checks on a defective vehicle that collapsed on an engineer during an inspection.

Mohammed Taj, 52, was working as a vehicle maintenance specialist for Aviance UK Ltd, at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal One. On 25 March 2008, he was inspecting a baggage tug vehicle, which is used to pull baggage trolleys.

The tug had an electrical fault and a hydraulic oil leak, and Mr Taj had placed it on a trolley jack so he could carry out maintenance from underneath the vehicle. The tug was raised 60 centimetres but no supports were used to hold it in place. While he was underneath the vehicle, the jack jolted backwards and the tug fell on top of him. He died at the scene as a result of serious head injuries.

The next day, the HSE issued an Improvement Notice against the firm, which required it to ensure that employees received training before being allowed to work underneath vehicles. It issued a Prohibition Notice on the same day, which required lifting supports to be supplied with similar vehicles.

HSE inspector Stephen Kirton said: “Mr Taj’s tragic death could have been avoided if axle stands were routinely carried in the company maintenance van and were used by staff. Mr Taj could be alive today if just £30 had been spent on a pair of axle stands.”

Aviance UK Ltd appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £90,000 and £18,800 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had cooperated with the HSE’s investigation. Following the incident, it issued axle stands to all baggage tugs, and also provided training and a safety handbook to all employees who worked with the vehicles.

Inspector Kirton added: “Working under poorly-supported vehicles has been recognised by the HSE as a serious problem for many years. We’ve recently published guidance in this area, which clearly states that people should never work below vehicles supported only by jacks. This should be read by all managers in the motor-vehicle repair industry.”

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