American Airlines has been fined £70,000 in whichaft a worker had to have his leg amputated following an incident at Heathrow Airport.
The Old Bailey heard that ground-support worker Kulwant Bhara, 45, was preparing an aircraft for departure at Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport, on 11 November 2008. A 70-tonne tug had pulled the plane away from the departure gate and on to the runway. Mr Bhara then disconnected the tug from the plane and was informing the pilot that he was clear to leave, when the tug reversed and knocked him to the ground. The vehicle ran over his right leg, which, as a result, had to be amputated from below his hip.
It was dark when the incident took place, and an HSE investigation found that the tug has neither reversing lights, nor an audible reversing alarm. HSE inspector John Crookes said: “Mr Bhara suffered injuries of a life changing nature, which were, in part, due to American Airlines failing to follow internal guidance requiring modification to pushback tugs.
“By failing to identify the problems with this tug over many years, the company fell well below the expected standard of safety management for a major international airline.
“Vehicle movements are one of the main risks facing airside ground-support workers in the aviation industry. This is why it is crucial for companies to ensure the vehicles are properly fitted with reversing lights and audible warning alarms.”
American Airlines Inc. appeared in court on 4 June and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 24 of PUWER 1998, for not installing a reversing warning device on the tug, and reg. 28(f) of the same legislation, for failing to ensure a vehicle is safe to use at night, or in the dark. It was ordered to pay costs of £10,581.
In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and apologised to Mr Bhara. It has subsequently installed reversing lights and a reversing alarm to its tug vehicles. The company has also altered the method of work for preparing aircraft to ensure that no pedestrians are allowed behind the tugs when they are moving planes.
An American Airlines statement said: “At all times, American Airlines’ primary concern has always been for the well-being and recovery of our injured employee and the airline has consequently focused on supporting the employee and his family through their difficulties.
“American Airlines has always openly accepted its responsibility in this incident and consequently has co-operated fully with investigations by the Health & Safety Executive which brought the case. The airline has also conducted its own internal investigation to establish the causes that led to this sad accident and to learn any lessons that will prevent anything similar happening again in the future. This investigation did identify procedural areas which could be improved and American has since implemented all changes to this effect, including equipment upgrades and the re-training of staff.”
Mr Bhara has been unable to return to work since the incident, which has significantly changed his life. He said: “The incident has effectively turned my life upside down and has affected both myself and my family drastically, in a number of different ways.
“Because of the difficulty of mobility, the pain I am in and the overall effect of [the] incident, it means that I am unable to involve myself in the normal family events. I have to be careful at all times because of the mobility I have lost, in which most people take for granted.”
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