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May 10, 2013

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Risk of vehicle and pedestrian collision was obvious

A worker at a warehouse in Kent was injured and is yet to return to work after being crushed between a forklift truck and a pallet of paper goods.

The incident, which occurred on 12 October 2011 at the Old Warehouse in Swanley, resulted in an employee sustaining three breaks in his right ankle and two fractures to his left leg. He is still unable to wear protective boots.

Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court heard on 7 May that the man, who does not wish to be named, was in a narrow aisle removing tickets from pallets, which were filled with paper goods. It was intended that the pallets would then be put on racks at either side of the aisle.

A colleague was using a forklift truck to stack the pallets on the right-hand side of the same aisle, when he reversed and backed into the worker. The collision crushed the aisle operator between the vehicle and the pallet.

An HSE investigation found that the company had failed to take some simple precautions to prevent the risk of pedestrians coming into contact with workplace vehicles. An Improvement Notice was served on the company, instructing it to implement a safe system of work in relation to the segregation of vehicles and pedestrians. The firm complied with the notice and now blocks off the entrance to the aisle to prevent forklifts from working in the area while workers are present.

Pleading guilty on 7 May to a breach of reg.17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Swan Mill Paper Company Ltd was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £3069 in full costs.

The company mitigated that it had a good safety record and cooperated with the investigation.

“The incident was entirely preventable,” HSE inspector Guy Widdowson remarked after the hearing. “Swan Mill Paper Company failed to make sure that there was a safe vehicle-and-pedestrian system of work in place within their warehouse. Such a measure would have prevented vehicles being able to access areas where workers on foot were moving around. Such a system was entirely possible without any detriment to the work being done.”

He added: “The incident at Swan Mill Paper Company was in a fairly narrow aisle with restricted visibility. The risk of a collision between a moving forklift and a warehouse operative while both are working in the same location is significant and should have been obvious to the company.”

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