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October 27, 2008

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Night-time truck-stop transfer ends in horror for drivers

A Shrewsbury lorry driver was crushed to death between his own and another lorry at a truck stop near Wolverhampton, Stafford Crown Court has heard.

Pentons Haulage and Cold Storage of Oswestry, Shropshire, was fined a total of £250,000 on 7 October after pleading guilty to breaching s2(1) of HSWA by not ensuring its employees’ safety (fine £225,000); and to a breach of reg.5 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, by failing to use proper planning, organisation and control of protective measures (fine £25,000).

The court was told that lorry-driver Jonathan Tiernan, 51, had met another driver from the same firm in order to transfer dairy products between the two vehicles at the former Night Owl truck stop in Featherstone, Staffordshire, in the early hours of 30 October 2005.

He had been standing behind his stationary lorry, holding a pallet acting as a makeshift bridge to transfer the goods across to the other lorry. As this vehicle reversed towards him, it crushed him, and the extent of his injuries was such that he died eight months later.

The other driver was aware of Mr Tiernan’s presence, and it is not known how he actually came to be crushed. “It did not help matters that the reversing light and audible warning alarm on the vehicle that crushed Mr Tiernan were not working at the time, or that it took place in the dark,” Jenny Rhodes, environmental health manager at South Staffordshire Council, told SHP. “There weren’t any facilities at the truck stop, nor any loading bays for them to use,” she added. “The drivers should have gone into a friendly depot where they could have used a loading bay to transfer the goods.”

Pentons apologised for its systemic failures and omissions, and said in mitigation the procedure of transferring goods in this way had been immediately banned. Risk assessments have now been put in place for all activities undertaken by the firm.

Barry Berlin, prosecuting on behalf of South Staffordshire Council, told the court that Mr Tiernan’s death could have been avoided, and that Pentons had systematically failed to provide and maintain a safe working environment for its employees. It had also failed to provide its workforce with sufficient health and safety training.

Mrs Justice Rafferty said Mr Tiernan had been an “innocent party” in a procedure that had cost his life. She said the company had run the risk specifically to save money, and that the amount of the fine “should give the loudest message, sounding the horror of the court”.

Jenny Rhodes commented: “Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their staff, and must make the workplace safe by eliminating or controlling risks. Clear guidance is easily available that spells out how to plan for safety, and activities off site must not be forgotten.

“This incident was wholly avoidable, and led to unnecessary loss of life. I hope that this case, and the fine imposed, will act as a deterrent, and will help make other businesses think more seriously about the safety of their workforce.”

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