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April 20, 2010

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Rubbish-tip fatality was “an obvious and foreseeable risk”

A waste-disposal company has been fined £280,000 after a member of the public was crushed to death at a rubbish dump in Newbury.

On 10 September 2007, Dennis Krauesslar, 57, was emptying garden waste from his van into a covered pit at the waste disposal site. Inside the pit an excavator was being used to flatten the waste to create more space.

The excavator moved towards the area where Mr Krauesslar was unloading his rubbish so that it could drag waste off the side of the pit. The vehicle’s loading shovel was fully raised and, as it was lowered, it struck Mr Krauesslar’s back and he sustained fatal crush injuries.

The following day the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice at the site for failing to separate pedestrians from machinery. It also issued an Improvement Notice owing to inadequate site management procedures.

HSE head of operations for the South East, Mike Wilcock, told SHP that the company had recorded previous incidents in its accident book where members of the public had been struck by the machine, but had failed to take action. He said: “This tragic incident could have been avoided if sensible precautions and working practices had been in place to prevent the loading shovel working in such close proximity to members of the public.

“This could have been achieved by closing the pit while vehicle movement was being carried out, or by cordoning off the area. Alternatively, an employee should have been stationed next to the pit to keep the public away from the area while the excavator was in use.”

Biffa Waste Services Ltd appeared at Reading Crown Court on 19 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg. 3(1)(b) of the Management and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined £240,000 for the first offence and £40,000 for the latter. It was also ordered to pay £54,906 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm entered an early guilty plea and said it immediately changed its site management systems to ensure the area was cordoned off while the excavator was in use. The site has subsequently closed.

The court heard that the firm was fined £190,000 in June 2009, following a similar incident at its rubbish dump in Hampshire where a self-employed worker was crushed to death by a shovel loader.

Delivering his sentence, Judge Stephen Wood said: “This was no way for a man to lose his life. There was an obvious and foreseeable risk of death and the conditions fell far short of the required standards.”

Mr Krauesslar’s widow was pleased with the level of fine that was imposed, she said: “The fine is the largest ever imposed on Biffa, which we believe is a reflection of their safety record and in particular the previous similar incident, which happened only 18 months earlier.

“We are however disappointed never to have received a personal apology or condolences for Dennis’ death from the company.”

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