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April 8, 2009

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Music firm takes rap for forklift folly

A record company that allowed forklift truck drivers to back-manoeuvre

into narrow warehouse aisles must pay a £20,000 penalty after a worker

was struck by a reversing vehicle.

Magistrates heard how David Shipman had been working in an aisle at Universal Music Operations Ltd’s warehouse in Kingston, Milton Keynes, on 26 March 2007.

He was putting goods away in low-level racking and was crouching down at the vehicle-entrance side of one of the aisles when a two-tonne man-riser forklift reversed into the aisle and collided with him. Mr Shipman suffered severe swelling and bruises to his right foot and was eventually signed off work for more than five months.

Terry Jenkins, the investigating senior environmental health officer (EHO) from Milton Keynes Council, told SHP that the man-riser forklift offers the driver a clear view when manoeuvring forwards but a significantly restricted view when reversing. This is caused by the rear location of the truck’s mast, which holds the lifting mechanism and hoisting cables.

The court heard how the company employed a system that relied on flexible straps stretching across the aisles. This system was designed to force drivers to alight from their cab to check the aisle for pedestrians before entering it. However, a poor system of maintenance meant that many of the straps were left broken for months, and there was no instruction of what to do if barriers were absent.

In short, the prosecution argued that there was no adequate system in place to prevent the truck from entering the aisle at the same time as a pedestrian, and no adequate system to prevent drivers from reversing into the aisles. The company also failed to ensure that operatives wore hi-vis vests when working in the aisles.

On the basis of these findings, the council prosecuted Universal for failing to provide a safe system of work for its employees. Appearing at Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court on 26 March 2009, the company pleaded guilty to a breach of s2 of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £9626.

Mitigating factors the court took into account included the firm’s early guilty plea and its previously clean record on health and safety.

Summing up the case, EHO Jenkins said: “There was no suitable or sufficient risk assessment as to the putting away and retrieval of stock in the aisles using the truck. The company should have eliminated the practice of reversing.

“There was also a complete breakdown of the system of repair and maintenance of these straps.”

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