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June 25, 2009

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Firm went into liquidation after second forklift accident

A dairy company has been fined £10,000 over a forklift-truck incident in which a worker was injured, but it is unlikely to pay because it is in receivership.

John Reader was working at the Lincoln premises of milk-processing company Dairy Farmers of Britain. He was operating a ride-on pallet truck and was attempting to move a number of milk bottles to a different part of the factory when the incident took place, on 18 June 2008.

As he was moving the load he approached a doorway with a plastic strip curtain. Unbeknown to Mr Reader, there was also a forklift truck moving towards the other side of the doorway. As the pallet truck entered the doorway it collided with the forklift, and Mr Reader sustained multiple fractures to his lower right leg. Owing to the severity of his injuries he was unable to return to work for eight months, and doctors have advised him that his leg will never regain its full strength.

Following an investigation by the HSE the company was issued with an Improvement Notice in October 2008, for failure to separate site traffic from pedestrians.

Dairy Farmers of Britain Ltd has subsequently gone into receivership and failed to appear at court to enter a plea. In its absence, the firm was found guilty of breaching reg.12(1) and reg.17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regualtions 1992 at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court on 24 June. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2916 towards costs.

Although the firm did not attend the hearing, the prosecution noted that it had fully co-operated with the investigation and had taken steps to separate vehicles and pedestrians.

However, the company was convicted of a similar incident in October 1998 when a forklift, which was entering a doorway with a plastic strip curtain, struck a pedestrian at a factory in Portsmouth. On that occasion, the company pleaded guilty to s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £1012 in costs.

HSE inspector Scott Wynne told SHP: “This incident could have been avoided if the company had organised the workplace so that vehicles could operate safely in a set area.

“All companies must assess the risks when pedestrians and vehicles, such as forklift trucks, work in close proximity and take appropriate precautions which are well documented in HSE guidance.

Glyn Thompson, an associate solicitor at Weightmans, told SHP that it’s unlikely that the fine will ever be paid. He said: “It could be considered pointless to have prosecuted this company as the court will not be a secured creditor and is unlikely to receive payment.

“But there is a need to satisfy the public’s thirst to see firms punished for incidents like these. If the HSE had decided not to prosecute the firm it could have come in for criticism for not holding the firm accountable. By continuing with this prosecution it prevents companies from going into liquidation to avoid being prosecuted. This firm will now only be able to being trading again by paying the court fine, which could act as the final death nail.”

Inspector Wayne concluded: “We hope this case send out a message that the HSE will continue to pursue proceedings against companies even if they are in receivership if it feels the duty holders must be held accountable.”

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