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March 31, 2009

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Driver’s vision was impeded by load

A lack of adequate traffic management at a recycling yard led to a workman being crushed to death by a 20-tonne digger.

David Liddle was working as a labourer at Alex Smiles Ltd in Deptford when the accident took place on 20 December 2007. Mr Liddle had been operating a processing machine but stopped work after he cut his finger.

He attempted to cross the yard to find a dressing for the cut, but was struck from behind by the vehicle. The driver, James Johnson, was transporting waste wood and was unable to see in front of him owing to the size of the load he was carrying. Johnson admitted that he was only able to manoeuvre around the site using landmarks for guidance.

As he struck Mr Liddle, Johnson felt a bump and immediately got out of his cab. He found Mr Liddle lying dead, having sustained severe crush injuries. Mr Liddle had not heard the vehicle approaching because he was still wearing ear protection, which had been issued to him for use when operating the processing machine.

Alex Smiles Ltd appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on 23 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. The firm was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5000 in costs.

James Johnson pleaded guilty to manslaughter at an earlier hearing and is due to be sentenced on 20 April. HSE principal inspector, Dr David Shallow, revealed that this case would be the first workplace manslaughter conviction in the North East of England.  

In mitigation, Alex Smiles accepted that it had failed to segregate vehicles and pedestrians at the yard. It has subsequently carried out a full risk assessment and marked out pedestrian walkways across the site.

Dr Shallow told SHP: “It’s vital that companies treat site traffic management in the same way they would other workplace systems. In this case, there was a clear failure by Alex Smiles to properly assess the traffic. If a risk assessment had been carried out the firm would have been aware of the need to introduce barriers and crossing points to protect pedestrians.”

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