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October 7, 2008

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Untrained worker crushed to death by forklift

Two companies have been fined a total of £67,500 after an untrained worker was killed when the forklift truck he was driving overturned.

Corby firm Welwood Roofing Services, now in administration, and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Watford, were fined £50,000 and £17,500 respectively over the incident, in which 34-year-old Shane Neal died while carrying out work at the former RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. The roofing firm was also ordered to pay full costs of £25,000, while the BRE was told to pay £12,000 in full costs.

Luton Crown Court heard on 24 September that Mr Neal from Kettering, Northamptonshire, had been contracted by Welwood to dismantle a fire-test rig after it had been tested at the BRE site. The rig had been set on fire as part of the process of testing its composite materials to see how well they would withstand a blaze.

On 2 May 2003, during the process of dismantling, Mr Neal was manoeuvring a forklift provided by the BRE — when it overturned and crushed him. The forks of the truck had been raised, rendering the machine unstable, explained Alison Ashworth, the HSE inspector who investigated the incident. “He had received no formal training in driving the truck,” she added.

Welwood was found guilty of contravening s3(1) of HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of non-employees. It did not enter a plea as it was in administration, so the court entered a not-guilty plea on its behalf. The BRE pleaded guilty to a breach of reg.9(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) by not ensuring that all people using work equipment were adequately trained in its use, potential risks and necessary precautions.

Welwood offered no mitigation as it did not attend court. The BRE said it had a good safety record, and was not as culpable as Welwood because it had less direct involvement with the work being undertaken. It had taken prompt remedial action since the incident.

Inspector Ashworth said: “I hope this tragic accident makes it clear to employers that they need to take positive action to manage risks, particularly when the work involves using forklift trucks.

“Mr Neal’s death could have been avoided had the companies involved carried out checks to confirm whether or not he knew of the dangers of forklift trucks and how to drive them safely.”

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