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October 4, 2009

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“Management shortcomings” to blame for fatality

A waste-transfer station must pay £105,000 in fines and costs following the death of a worker at its depot in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Swindon Crown Court heard that Bert Reeves, 62, was working as a totter for Shanley and Sons Ltd, when he was run over by a reversing skip lorry, on 21 June 2007.

Mr Reeves was standing in the depot’s tipping yard, operating an industrial shredding machine, which is used to process skip waste. At the same time a vehicle was delivering waste products, and the driver was attempting to park in the yard, in order to tip out the load. The driver could not see Mr Reeves as he was stood in the vehicle’s blindspot. He was struck by the rear of the vehicle, and fell underneath its wheels. Mr Reeves suffered serious head and chest injuries and died in hospital two hours later.

The HSE visited the site and issued an Improvement Notice in July 2007 for the failure to separate vehicles and pedestrians. Inspector Liam Osbourne said: “This was a truly horrific case of a man killed doing his work in a needless and entirely preventable incident.

“Large moving vehicles on waste and recycling sites are a major risk to people who have to work on foot. Safety laws were introduced in 1992 that require managers of these sites to organise them to reduce the risk of people being killed or injured in this way.

“We ask that managers of such sites take a little time to review what they have in place and take urgent steps to do everything reasonable to keep people away from vehicles.”

Shanley and Sons appeared in court on 25 September and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg.17 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, for failing to segregate vehicles and pedestrians. It was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000.

A statement by Frances Reeves, the widow of the deceased, was read to the court. It said: “Life for me can never be the same. I feel that his death was so preventable. If Shanley’s had taken the time to ensure that safety rules were in place, and that the yard was being managed so that people were out of the way when vehicles operated, then Bert would not have been able to have been killed.”

The firm mitigated that it had no previous convictions for health and safety offences, and had complied with the Improvement Notice. It has subsequently installed a one-way system, pedestrian-only areas, and signage to separate vehicles and pedestrians. It has also stationed a traffic coordinator in the yard to guide lorries into the tipping area.

In March, the company was prosecuted by the Environment Agency (EA) for multiple breaches to its waste licence at the same site, which included a rat infestation. It was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3513. The firm was also prosecuted by the EA in June 2008 for operating its Warminster depot without a waste licence. On this occasion it was fined £40,000 with costs of £1813.

After delivering his sentence Judge Hart revealed that it was his belief that Mr Reeves’ death was caused by “management shortcomings”. He said: “This case makes disturbing reading and there was a substantial gap between reasonable practice for risk management and what was actually in place.

“Failure to put in place pedestrian segregation was a direct cause of the accident. There was also a lack of management strategy and a blatant inadequacy of risk-assessment training and a safe system of work.”

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