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November 6, 2008

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Tanker driver died in fall from top of vehicle

A 57-year-old Scottish tanker driver fell three metres to his death from the top of his vehicle because his employer failed to provide a safe place and system of work.

Cupar Sheriff Court was told that James Hutchinson, from Clackmannanshire, had been making a delivery of liquid animal feed to a large farm in Fife after sunset on 8 February 2007.

He had climbed on top of the tanker to set control valves for a pressure discharge, but fell from the mid-point of the tanker to ground level as he was making his way down. He was found at 6.30am the following morning by two farm workers.

Robert Fraser, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, said there was no safety rail on the driver’s side of the vehicle, when there should have been guardrails all the way round it.

The court fined Glasgow haulage firm Carntyne Transport £5000 on 16 October, after it pleaded guilty to contravening s2(1) of HSWA 1974 by not ensuring its employees’ safety.

In mitigation the company said there had been safety guardrails supplied on the tanker but they had only been deployed on one side. It had been in the process of upgrading all its tankers to a better standard, and had taken an active part in forums looking at a new generation of tankers whose controls are located at ground level, so that drivers do not have to climb up. It had undergone no previous prosecutions.

Inspector Fraser commented: “Mr Hutchinson’s death was entirely preventable and arose from the clear failure to carry out a risk assessment and ensure there was safe access to the top of the vehicle.”

He added: “Although workplace transport injuries form a fairly small part of all accidents at work, they are more likely to result in serious injuries and much more likely to lead to fatalities.”

The inspector said that according to HSE figures, one person dies every week from a slip, trip, or fall at work, and every 25 minutes someone breaks or fractures a bone at work. “This is unacceptable and employers should ensure that they do everything in their power to prevent this type of accident occurring,” he urged.

Commenting on the low level of the fine, inspector Fraser said no amount of fine could compensate for the loss and grief to Mr Hutchinson’s family.

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