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July 15, 2009

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Worker fell from pallet balanced on forklift

A worker fractured his leg and ankle after falling 13 feet from an

unsecured wooden pallet being hoisted by a forklift truck while trying

to release a jammed roller-shutter door.

Berwick-upon-Tweed magistrates heard on 7 July that John Weatherburn had been attempting to release the door, which jammed intermittently, in a way that could have been fatal.

The incident happened at the premises of speciality malt manufacturer Simpsons Malt, in Berwick, Northumberland, on 6 October 2007. HSE Principal Inspector Richard Bulmer told SHP the roller-shutter door had been “problematic” for around ten years, as it overran its guide rails at the top and jammed around four times a year.

The PI said the only way to unjam the door was to get access to the top and pull out the roller. “The roller shutter was poorly maintained and the firm was very tardy in repair,” he said. Although a replacement door had been costed by the company, it did not obtain one until after the incident.”

PI Bulmer went on: “The means of access to the door grew out of necessity. The firm had provided an appropriate manriding cage for the forklift truck, but the workers thought it was off site. This was a regular operation and the men had to get the door shut.”

But as Mr Weatherburn forced the shutter door free, it shot back at him, causing him to overbalance and fall forwards off the pallet to the ground below.
The company said in mitigation the men had not been instructed to do the work in this manner. It had given the HSE its full cooperation and had no previous health and safety convictions.

However, PI Bulmer said: “None of the men felt they had any alternative, even though they were trained and knew the operation was dangerous. This was not a furtive frolic, it was a method of work employed in full glare and all too frequent.  Mr Weatherburn eventually paid the price.”

The inspector said the men should have used an alternative to the forklift, such as a ladder, a mobile scaffold or a cherry picker/mobile-elevated work platform. He said that forklift trucks may be used if they have been properly modified and provided with a secure safety cage. But at the time of the incident, when the plant was about to close, the three men involved felt they had no alternative but to place a pallet on the forks of a forklift truck, and then raise the pallet with a man standing on it.

Mr Weatherburn continues to receive regular hospital treatment and has been unable to return to work. At one point it was feared his leg would have to be amputated, but fortunately these concerns were never realised.

Inspector Bulmer commented: “Experience shows that using a simple pallet on a standard forklift truck as a means of access when carrying out maintenance or repair work is fraught with danger. Many workers have been either killed or seriously injured in this way in the past.”

Simpsons Malt pleaded guilty to a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA by failing to ensure its employees’ safety. It was fined £10,000 and told to pay full costs of £5884.

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