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March 11, 2009

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Stone-yard worker crushed by falling slabs

A stone-yard worker was crushed to death after a pile of granite slabs fell on him inside a shipping container.

Jerzy Tomasz Pejda was working as a stone labourer for Stoneville UK Ltd at the firm’s yard in Hounslow, London, when the accident took place on 2 November 2005. Mr Pejda and a colleague were attempting to unload a delivery of granite slabs from a shipping container, which was resting on a trailer.

Both men were removing the slabs from wooden crates so that they could be transported into the yard. They used an angle grinder to break the seal of the crates, and had successfully unloaded the contents from three of the crates when they noticed that some of the remaining slabs had been shattered. A number of undamaged slabs were removed and left to stand, while the men removed the debris from the broken slabs.

As they proceeded to clear the debris, some of the slabs became unstable and fell on to Mr Pejda, who was standing in the centre of the container. His colleague managed to jump out of the container, but Mr Pedja was trapped between the falling stones and a separate bundle of secured slabs. Several of his colleagues tried to free him but he was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of crush injuries. His body was removed from the container after it was freed from the stones by the fire brigade.

Investigators from the HSE found that the trailer was positioned on a slight camber. But the investigation was unable to conclude if this was responsible for the slabs falling, or if wooden supports holding the stones in place were insufficient. The company had also failed to conduct a risk assessment and plan for the unloading of the container in such a way that risks to employees were controlled.

Appearing at the Old Bailey on 6 March, Stoneville UK pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £4000 and ordered to pay £2000 costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and has now obtained the services of a safety consultant. It has also put in place a new system of work to ensure that stone is delivered in open-top crates, to avoid having to break the seal to gain access to the slabs.

HSE inspector, Owen Yorath, said: “The death of Mr Pejda was the tragic result of a failure to take practicable precautions to control the risks associated with the unloading of vehicles. Employers must learn from this tragedy that it is essential that companies carry out a risk assessment for the loading and unloading of workplace transport.

“Companies must also make sure the staff and management are properly trained, and adhere to the risk assessment, to avoid such fatalities.”

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