3 Jul 2009

Dangers of not maintaining plant equipment

The Health and Safety Executive has warned of the danger of not maintaining plant equipment after the death of a telescopic forklift truck driver, who was crushed between the descending arm and side of his vehicle.

The warning follows the prosecution of two companies in relation to the incident at the Davyhulme Waste Water Treatment Works, on 18 September 2003. MB Plastics Ltd and Birse Integrated Solutions Ltd were sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday 30 June.

The deceased man’s employer, MB Plastics Ltd of Warrington, pleaded guilty to an offence under health and safety legislation. The company was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay costs of £24,323.

The principal contractor for the project, Birse Water Ltd, which is now trading as Birse Integrated Solutions Ltd also pleaded guilty. It was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £41,073.

The court heard the vehicle’s off-side cab window normally acted as a guard, but had been damaged during a lifting operation five weeks before the fatality. At the time of the incident, the cab window was entirely missing.

Judge Peter Lakin said, although there were no witnesses to the incident, the most likely explanation is that the deceased man leant out of the cab window and came into contact with the joystick, bringing the arm of the forklift truck down onto him.

MB Plastics Ltd was charged with failing to ensure the safety of employees, under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, while involved in operating and working with, or in the vicinity of, a telescopic forklift truck.

Birse was charged with failing to ensure the safety of people not in its employment, under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The court found that Birse had failed to ensure that MB Plastics Ltd prepared suitable and sufficient risk assessments in relation to its telescopic forklift truck operations. It also found that Birse had failed to adequately monitor MB Plastics Ltd and, as a result, had failed to identify the broken window and ensure it was replaced.

HSE Inspector Warren Pennington said:

"This incident would have been entirely avoidable if the proper health and safety procedures had been followed.

"MB Plastics Ltd did not have a system in place for formal regular inspections of the plant. As a result, the company failed to maintain the cab window which could have saved this man’s life.

"Birse, the principal contractor on the site, also had a duty to supervise its subcontractors properly. The company had a comprehensive management system but it was not implemented and, as a result, something as simple as a missing window was not spotted.

"This incident emphasises how important it is that companies should not only ensure they have the proper procedures in place – but also ensure they are followed. We’re therefore calling on employers to take their responsibilities seriously so that future tragedies can be avoided."

Passing sentence, Judge Lakin said:

"MB had primary responsibility for the welfare of its employees. The harsh reality of this case is that, in relation to this contract, MB completely failed to have any proper regard to their health and safety obligations.

"This directly led to the development of an unsafe and sloppy system of work in relation to the use of telehandlers. As a result MB’s workforce was exposed to completely unnecessary and avoidable risk.

"Birse, as principal contractors on site, failed to implement their own systems and accordingly failed to properly monitor what MB were doing. This lack of monitoring allowed MB’s disregard for health and safety to continue over a number of weeks. In short, Birse failed in their supervisory role".

Notes to editors
  1. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 says:

    "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."

  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 says:

    "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

Source: HSE/NW/009MBPlasticsBirse/2009 (Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence.)

At Good to Go Safety, we believe our Forklift Inspection system would have prevented such a devastating incident. The broken window would have been spotted early and the offending equipment put into quarantine until the window had been mended. The cost of implementing such a system when compared to the fines imposed and, more importantly, the life lost is negligible. This accident could realistically have been avoided for as little as £0.26.

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