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July 9, 2009

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Two firms to pay GBP 214k over potentially fatal fall

An engineer fell more than ten metres from a huge fan at the premises

of waste management giant Veolia Environmental Services Birmingham

(VESB), sustaining serious injuries including broken ribs, a punctured

lung and a hernia.

VESB and contractor, Huddersfield-based gearbox manufacturer Hansen Transmissions, were handed down large fines by Birmingham Crown Court on 3 July.

The court heard that on 5 July 2007, the injured man, who was employed by Hansen,  had been working as part of a team of four to replace a gearbox within one of eight condenser units at an incinerator operated by VESB, where refuse was burned to produce electricity for the national grid.

Paul Smith, the HSE inspector who investigated the incident, told SHP that within each condenser there was a large fan, nine and a half metres in diameter, set at a height of ten metres with a gearbox connected to it.

In trying to remove the gearbox on the day of the incident, it was necessary to drop the fan off the bottom of the gearbox, but this was proving problematic.
Explained the inspector: “Hydraulic equipment should have been brought in, but, instead, the four men stood on the fan blades and rocked them up and down. When the fan released itself, the worker  overbalanced, and fell ten metres through a mesh that could not hold his weight, on to the floor below.”

He added: “Luckily, he fell onto a pallet of copper pipes, which absorbed much of the impact. He would certainly have died if he had landed on the floor.”

Hansen mitigated that it had no previous convictions and this sort of work was only carried out roughly one day a year. It accepted that it had not monitored its activities off-site and now employed a full-time health and safety advisor.

VESB said it had implemented health and safety training for its managers since the incident. It had engaged Hansen as a specialist contractor on the job in question, so had not sent untrained and incompetent persons to carry it out.

Inspector Smith said: “This incident resulted in serious injuries, which could so easily have been fatal. The man involved is lucky to be alive.

“Any informed check upon the system of work used by Hansen should have identified its shortcomings and put a stop to it. VESB failed to properly monitor or manage the work being carried out by Hansen. It apparently expected the use of scaffolding and harnesses, but did not check that the work was being done that way.

“Site owners and operators must be aware of their duties towards contractors and others who work on their premises, then take suitable steps to ensure their safety.”

VESB pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA by failing to ensure the safety of those not in its employment. It was fined £100,000 and told to pay costs of £22,000. Hansen was fined £70,000 with £22,000 costs after pleading guilty to contravening s2(1) of the HSWA by not ensuring its employees’ safety.

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