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March 26, 2010

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Retail giant put workers and staff at risk

Department store John Lewis has been fined £16,000 after a worker was struck in the head by a cherry-picker outside its store in Milton Keynes.

On 28 June 2008, staff were putting up banners to advertise a sale at the John Lewis store in thecentre:mk building. The store had hired a cherry-picker from the shopping centre, which it was using to hang a banner above the outside entrance to the shop.

The company’s merchandising manager, Madeline Nicholas, 59, was helping to direct the cherry picker through the shopping centre to the outside of the store. As she was holding open the centre’s doors, so that the vehicle could pass through, she was struck in the face by the vehicle’s basket, sustaining a cut above her eye.

Senior environmental health officers Natasha Bentley and Martin Brown, from Milton Keynes Council, jointly investigated the case. Bentley revealed that the store’s management had failed to take steps to separate vehicles from pedestrians, or identify the risks associated with the method of work. She said: “There were three managers present during this activity who should have taken a step back from the activity, thought about what they were trying to accomplish, and determined the best course of action to achieve this, using some common sense in the process.”

Brown added: “These were the worst possible doors to attempt to drive through, due to maintenance work being conducted around them. If the set of doors immediately adjacent had been chosen they could have been opened automatically, without staff standing in close proximity to a moving vehicle.”

John Lewis appeared at Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court on 19 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £8987 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had fully cooperated with the investigation. It entered an early guilty plea and regretted that the incident had taken place.

In a statement it said: “John Lewis takes the health and safety of both its partners and customers extremely seriously and it is regretful that this incident occurred. John Lewis cooperated fully with Milton Keynes Council’s health and safety officers throughout their investigations and has since made every effort to ensure that an incident of this nature does not happen again.”

The council decided against bringing any charges against thecentre:mk.

Meanwhile, the HSE has issued new guidance for operating telehandlers after a worker was crushed to death by a descending boom, while leaning out of a broken window in the vehicle. The new guidance recommends that these vehicles are removed from service if the right-hand window is missing or broken.

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