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May 5, 2011

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Mortal maintenance mistake at mat manufacturer

A car mat manufacturer has admitted failing to properly plan and monitor maintenance work after an employee suffered fatal head injuries when he was struck by a steel barrier.

Balbir Rayatt, 55, was working as an engineering and maintenance manager at Cannon Automotive Ltd’s factory in Tottenham, London, when the incident took place on 20 May 2008.

He was in charge of a maintenance team that was repairing a rubber-mixing machine at the site. In order to make the repairs they began removing parts from the machine, which included a 130kg steel barrier that acted as a protective buffer to stop forklift trucks from colliding against the machine.

Once the barrier was removed the workers stored it in a vertical position behind some crates, which were positioned on the opposite side of a walkway at the rear of the machine. But the barrier had not been secured and, as they continued with the repairs, it fell and brushed against the arm of the factory’s health and safety manager before striking Mr Rayatt in the head. Mr Rayatt died in hospital owing to his injuries but the other man was unhurt.

The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice to the company the day after the incident, which required maintenance work at the site to cease until it was properly planned. HSE inspector, Neil Fry, told SHP that the incident could have been avoided if the barrier had been laid flat on the floor, or it should have been secured with chains if it was stored vertically. He went on to say that the firm did not supervise, manage, monitor, audit or review its arrangements regarding maintenance operations on the mixer to ensure they met health and safety standards.

He said: “This tragic death was utterly preventable. Poor standards and failure to keep working environments in a good condition are a major cause of these types of incidents and also occupational diseases.

“Maintenance is a process that affects every aspect of safety and health and, when a tragedy such as this occurs, it demonstrates the importance of planning when carrying out maintenance work. Unfortunately it is too late for Mr Rayatt, but I would hope employers in London and around the UK will take note.”

Cannon Automotive appeared at the City of London Magistrates’ Court on 28 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £13,010 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous related convictions and had fully cooperated with the investigation. It told the court that following the incident there had been mass redundancies at the factory as it no longer makes car mats at the plant. As a result, the company asked the court to consider its lack of financial means during sentencing.

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