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health and safety case law update

2 August 2010
Workplace transport

Case 1 - employee injured by forklift truck

The Depot Manager of a portable toilet hire firm was working in the yard area of a depot when he was struck by a reversing forklift truck. He sustained multiple fractures to his foot as a result of the accident. The subsequent HSE investigation found that the yard did not have adequately segregated routes separating pedestrians and vehicles.

The company was prosecuted for failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. A further charge was brought under Regulation 17(1) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 that the workplace was not organised in such a way that pedestrians and vehicles could circulate in a safe manner. The company admitted both charges before the Stevenage Magistrates and was ordered to pay a £7000 fine and £3198 in prosecution costs. After the case, the HSE stated that they would not hesitate to take action against companies failing to comply with the law.

Case 2 - employee crushed to death in distribution depot

An HGV driver was reversing his tractor to line up with a trailer unit parked in a loading bay. When the manoeuvre had been completed he left his cab and discovered that his colleague had been crushed between the tractor and the trailer, resulting in fatal injuries. It was thought that the drivers colleague was removing a lock from the trailer so that it could be attached to the tractor, however the driver could not see him because of the vehicles blind spot.

The HSE prosecuted the company for failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company pleaded guilty, acknowledging that there should have been better segregation between pedestrians and vehicles. The company was ordered to pay a £90000 fine and £42000 in prosecution costs. The HSE commented that the company had failed to assess the risks to its employees in the depot and had failed to identify and rectify the unsafe system.

What this means for employers

Employers need to be aware of their legal duty to protect people who work near vehicle routes. The HSE will want to be satisfied that routes have been assessed and relevant issues have been considered. A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be conducted which covers the following:

  • vehicles reversing
  • parking
  • coupling/uncoupling
  • loading/unloading
  • tipping
  • load safety
  • sheeting and netting
  • preventing vehicles from overturning

Further guidance including a Site Inspection - Workplace Transport Checklist is available on the HSE website.

Maintenance of equipment

Case 3 - farm worker crushed to death by faulty tipper trailer

An agricultural worker was towing manure to a field and dumping it out of a tipper trailer when the drawbar (a solid coupling between the vehicle and its load) broke and crashed through the back of the tractor. The worker was fatally crushed. An investigation by the HSE found that the tipper trailer had not been adequately maintained.

The farming and haulage company that had employed the worker pleaded guilty to failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was sentenced at Norwich Crown Court and was ordered to pay a £21000 fine and £54000 in prosecution costs. The HSE commented that it was down to the company to ensure the equipment was maintained properly and safe for use.

Case 4 - worker suffers multiple injuries in faulty Bobcat

An employee was driving a Bobcat skid-steer loader when he got out of the vehicle in order to refuel. He left the engine running and when he got back into the vehicle he accidentally stepped on the control to raise the bucket of the vehicle. He was crushed by the bucket and suffered multiple and life threatening injuries.

It was subsequently discovered that the vehicle normally has a bar to prevent the bucket from being raised unless there is a person in the driving seat. However, the bar device on the Bobcat involved in this incident was not working. The HSE prosecuted the employer company for failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a £17000 fine and £17000 in prosecution costs. After the case the HSE stated that this had been a simple example of faulty equipment and insufficient training.

What this means for employers

Employers should be aware of the legal requirement to ensure that work equipment is safe and suitable for use. Work equipment is almost any equipment used by a worker. Employers should:

  • consider what risks there are from using the equipment
  • consider what can be done to prevent or reduce the risk
  • implement preventative measures
  • ensure that there is a regular maintenance system in place
  • ensure that people using the equipment have received adequate training, instruction and information.

Further guidance in relation to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 is available on the HSE website.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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