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March 11, 2011

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Pipe manufacturer failed to assess work-at-height risks

A HSE inspector has described methods used for work at height at a Lincolnshire pipework company as “fundamentally unsafe”.

Skegness Magistrates’ Court heard that a worker was loading coiled plastic pipes on to a lorry at Polypipe Ltd’s site on Boston Road Industrial Estate, in Horncastle, when the incident took place, on 16 June 2009. He was standing on top of the lorry with two colleagues, and, in order to be lowered to the ground, they stepped into a cage that was supported by a forklift truck.

The cage had not been secured to the truck and was balancing on the forks. When the driver tried to lower them the cage struck the edge of the lorry and began to slide off the forks. The forklift driver tried to catch the cage by piercing the side of it with the vehicle’s forks, but in doing so struck one of the workers inside the cage. He suffered two broken ribs and was unable to return to work for three weeks.

The HSE issued two Improvement Notices on 23 July 2009, which required the company to review its work-at-height procedures and create a safe system of work. HSE inspector Emma Madeley revealed the company had failed to carry out a risk assessment, which would have identified the dangers presented by the method of work.

She said: “This incident was completely avoidable and stems from Polypipe’s entire system of work being fundamentally unsafe. There should have been a system for loading that didn’t involve unsafe work at height, and employees should have been provided with a safe method of getting back down to the ground.
“The positive thing to come from this incident is that the company has now taken steps to resolve these issues and has introduced an acceptable system of work.”

Polypipe appeared in court on 9 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £20,000. The company was also ordered to pay compensation of £5000 to the injured person, plus £4765 costs.

In mitigation, the court heard that the company had a previously exemplary safety record and had co-operated fully with the HSE.

A spokesperson Polypipe said “We deeply regret that one of our employees suffered an injury whilst at work, and are very glad that he has now made a full recovery. We take our health and safety responsibilities very seriously, and work hard, in partnership with our workforce, to reduce the chance of accidents occurring.

“However, it is disappointing to note that equipment, a system of work, and training had been provided, which we believed to be the safest option at the time, and, had they been used by the injured person, they would have prevented this particular accident.  With the benefit of hindsight we completely accept the HSE’s findings that these provisions were imperfect, and we have taken on board the HSE’s recommendations, and strive to continually improve health and safety on our sites.”

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13 years ago

An interesting case but not unusual in the logistics, haulage and distribution industry. The copmay have now got a set of “aircraft steps” which is the obvious safe solution but I would love to know what procedure they use for ensuring safey when unloading at the destination?