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January 4, 2010

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Latest loading accident lands courier company in court

A worldwide courier company has been fined £35,000 after failing to adequately assess the dangers associated with vehicle movements, following several accidents at its Bedfordshire distribution centre.

Michael Tierney, 53, was employed as a porter for Tuffnells Parcels Express Ltd at the firm’s Leighton Buzzard depot. He was responsible for unloading parcels brought to the depot by HGVs, and sorting the parcels for local delivery by smaller lorries. All delivery lorries were reverse-parked in loading bays, which were connected to the sorting centre by manual ramps.

On 18 March 2008, Mr Tierney was loading parcels in to the back of a 7.5 tonne lorry, when the driver unexpectedly returned to the vehicle and pulled away from the loading dock. Mr Tierney fell four feet from the rear of the vehicle on to the concrete floor and fractured the thigh-bone in his right leg. He was unable to return to work for more than six months.

This was not an isolated incident, as another worker at the depot had suffered crush injuries while loading a forklift in November 2007. A month before Mr Tierney was injured, the HSE issued an Improvement Notice, which required the company to review vehicle movements at the site. Two other incidents at the distribution centre — in 2001 and January 2008 — were almost identical to the one involving Mr Tierney.

HSE inspector Graham Tompkins said: “Mr Tierney suffered a serious break to his leg in this incident, which should never have happened. Tuffnells was aware that someone could be inside the back of a vehicle when it drove off, and had produced a risk assessment to be issued to new drivers with their employment contracts. However, in this case, the driver had not received a contract and had not seen the risk assessment.

“Reasonable, practical measures the company could have put in place would have included a simple control system to prevent the driver from pulling away from the loading bay, such as a key cabinet with restricted access, or giving the keys to the porter until loading was complete.”

Tuffnells Parcels Express appeared at Bedfordshire Crown Court on 18 December and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £5134 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it has reviewed its arrangements for the control of risks associated with vehicle movements, and introduced loading sheets, which are signed by supervisors to confirm that lorries have been loaded and secured. Lorry drivers can only retrieve the keys to their vehicle once this form has been handed in to the traffic office.

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