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July 7, 2010

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Logistics and tobacco firms fined £160k for crush death

A heavy-goods driver was crushed to death by a rolling lorry as he tried to collect a loaded trailer from the depot of an international tobacco supplier in Nottingham.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that Gary Brookes, 42, of Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire, suffered fatal head injuries when he was crushed by a lorry at Imperial Tobacco’s site on 7 September 2007.

Mr Brookes was a driver for global logistics firm Exel Europe, a division of DHL, which was contracted to distribute Imperial Tobacco’s products across the UK. He was trying to connect the loaded trailer to the back of his cab, when the lorry began rolling forwards. He ran around the front of the vehicle towards the driver’s side door but became trapped between the front of the lorry and a building. He suffered serious head injuries and died at the scene.

HSE inspector Frances Bailey revealed that drivers working for both Exel and Imperial did not routinely apply the trailer brakes to make sure vehicles were safely parked.  Some drivers had not been properly trained or assessed and no checks had been carried out to monitor the use of trailer brakes in the yard.

The inspector told SHP that both companies had identified the risk to workers but had failed to implement appropriate control measures. Their method of working ignored published safety guidance, which meant that drivers, other employees, visitors and third-party contractors were all at risk.

She said: “This case was prompted by the tragic death of Gary Brookes, which could have been avoided had the companies involved ensured that all drivers routinely followed a safe system of work.

“All haulage companies should know that it is their responsibility to check on safety practices and make sure drivers are following the right procedures.”

Imperial Tobacco Ltd and Exel Europe Ltd appeared in court on 2 July and both pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. Imperial Tobacco was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £31,000 in costs. Exel was fined the same amount but must pay £35,800 in costs.

Neither firm had any previous convictions and both entered early guilty pleas. Spot checks are now carried out at the site to ensure that the trailer brakes are being applied. Excel has also retrained its drivers to make sure they follow a safe system of work for coupling and uncoupling the trailers.

Mr Brookes’ widow, Hazel said: “To try to explain the total devastation of my loss is not possible. Gary was my life.  I can only say – try to imagine the person you loved and cherished so much, and were holding only hours before, is dead, it’s impossible.

“My only wish is that things can be put in place and lessons learned, and I think some already have and procedures have been changed. Hopefully then such a tragic accident like Gary’s may never happen again.”

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