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July 6, 2009

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GBP 265K to pay after forklift-crush fatality

A forklift truck driver died of multiple injuries after being crushed

between the descending boom arm and frame of the cab of a telehandler

he was operating.

Manchester Crown Court handed two companies fines and costs totalling more than £265,000 on 30 June. Warrington-based sub-contractor MB Plastics, the employer of the deceased man, Michael Payne, was fined £150,000 plus full costs of £24,323 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the safety of employees under s2(1) of the HSWA.

Judge Peter Lakin also fined the principal contractor on the job, Birse Integrated Solutions, of Cheadle Hulme, £50,000, with full costs of £41,073, after it pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA by failing to ensure the safety of non-employees.

The court heard that the fatality happened at a waste-water treatment works in Trafford, Manchester, on 18 September 2003, where Birse had been installing two odour-control units. The offside cab window of the telehandler, which normally acted as a guard preventing access to the trap formed by the boom and the superstructure of the machine itself, was entirely missing as it had been damaged five weeks earlier and not replaced.

Judge Lakin said although there were no witnesses to the incident, the most likely explanation was that the deceased man leant out of the cab window and came into contact with the joystick controls, bringing the boom down on to himself.

Passing sentence, the judge commented that numerous dangers and risks are associated with telehandlers and their use. “In particular, the dangers associated with the boom are significant and well known,” he said.

The court found that Birse had failed to ensure that MB Plastics prepared suitable and sufficient risk assessments in relation to its telescopic forklift truck operations. It also found that Birse had failed to adequately monitor MB Plastics and, as a result, had failed to identify the broken window and ensure it was replaced.

MB Plastics offered mitigation that it had not put profit before safety — the breach had been as a result of sloppy practice. It had now taken steps to remedy the deficiencies. Birse said in mitigation that its system was basically a good one, but it had allowed too much leeway in relation to the return of weekly plant inspection forms by MB.

Warren Pennington, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, commented: “MB Plastics did not have a system in place for formal regular inspections of the plant. As a result, the company failed to maintain the cab window, which could have saved this man’s life.

“Birse also had a duty to supervise its sub-contractors properly. The company had a comprehensive management system but it was not implemented and, as a result, something as simple as a missing window was not spotted.

“This incident emphasises how important it is that companies should not only ensure they have the proper procedures in place, but also ensure they are followed.”

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