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November 5, 2008

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Recycling firm’s risk assessment was unrealistic

A Lincoln man sustained serious injuries after he fell from a precarious position on a pile of old fridges and freezers he was loading on a lorry.

Cheshire-based European Metal Recycling was fined £2500 and ordered to pay £2454 in full costs by Lincoln magistrates on 15 October after pleading guilty to breaching reg.4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005, by failing to ensure work at height was carried out safely.

The magistrates heard that the man, an agency worker who had only been at the firm for a few days, had been working at its yard in Lincoln, described by Judith McNulty-Green, the HSE inspector who investigated and prosecuted the case, as a “traditional scrapyard”.

She explained to SHP that lorries that had collected disused fridges and freezers and brought them to the depot, where they were loaded on to other trailers before being taken away to have their gases removed.

At the end of a cold and wet day on 17 December 2007, a lorry driver arrived to take a trailer full of old appliances away but refused to take the load, as parts of the units were sticking out of the side of the curtain-sided vehicle.

The worker climbed on to the bed of the wagon and, from there, on to the top of the appliances to move some of them around. He lost his balance and fell ten feet to the ground, dislocating fingers on his left hand, breaking his left wrist, and fracturing vertebrae in his neck. He was kept in hospital for five days and had to wear a neck brace for three months.

Inspector McNulty-Green said it had not been an isolated incident. “The firm’s workers had been loading appliances by climbing on to the back of the wagon and then on to the top of fridges and freezers and hand-balling them on top of each other for the length of its contract,” she said, adding that although the company had conducted a risk assessment, it “did not demonstrate reality”.

European Metal Recycling said in mitigation it had now put a platform in place to prevent falls from vehicles, had changed the way it loaded appliances on to trailers, and put work-at-height training in place for all its workers.

Inspector McNulty-Green said: “Three million people work on, or near vehicles as part of their regular job. Getting on and off a vehicle to carry out loading or unloading, and working at height on the vehicle, are often viewed as incidental to the main job. Because of this, the risks involved may not be properly considered by either workers or their managers.

“This incident could have been avoided, and a man might not have been seriously injured if the company had sufficient procedures in place,” she concluded.

 

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