A pet centre has been fined £185,000 and its owner sentenced to 200-hours of community service following a forklift accident in which a lorry driver was left paralysed from the neck down.
- A forklift truck was being driven by the company’s managing director Richard Ellwood to unload a delivery lorry.
- The 800kg load was lifted with the forks too close together and the truck manoeuvred with the load raised.
- The load fell more than 2.5 metres from the forks onto the lorry driver causing fractures to his neck vertebrae, rendering him tetraplegic.
The Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk brought charges against both the director and the company. The judgement identified that the company had not assessed the risks nor put in place appropriate arrangements to reduce those risks to as low as reasonably practicable.
Dickies Pet Centre of King’s Lynn pleaded guilty to an offence of failing to fulfil its duty to ensure those it did not employ were not exposed to risk by the way it ran its business. Richard Ellwood, the firm’s managing director pleaded guilty to an offence of being a director who consented to or connived in the company’s offence, or to whose neglect that offending was attributable.
The company was fined £115,000 and also ordered to pay more than £70,000 towards costs of the investigation. Mr Ellwood was sentenced to a 12-month community order with a 200 hour unpaid work requirement.
Follow the correct procedures
Underlining the need for proper risk assessments and safe working practices Vicki Hopps, West Norfolk Council’s Environmental Health Manager said: “Deliveries of substantial goods between businesses involve a number of well-known safety risks, especially where forklift trucks are used to handle the goods.
“Those who operate businesses must ensure they assess the risks involved for their particular situation and put in place appropriate arrangements to reduce those risks to as low as reasonably practicable.
“This incident shows the potentially devastating consequences for anyone caught up in the mishandling of delivered goods, and as these proceedings show, failing to reach the minimum safety standards set by law may lead to serious consequences for the businesses responsible and for those individuals running those businesses.”
Sentencing the defendants, District Judge King said that this was an incident which did not need to occur and that “tragic consequences” were caused by Mr Ellwood proceeding without:
- checking the spacing of the forks
- ensuring they were inserted into the correct aperture of that pallet
- lowering the pallet to ankle height
- warning pedestrians to keep out of the way.
Safely loading and unloading visiting vehicles
Here are some measures you can take when external vehicles visit your site:
- Clear the area of other traffic, pedestrians and anyone not directly involved in loading or unloading.
- Make sure operations are carried out on firm level ground.
- When loading and unloading, spread loads as evenly as possible to prevent the vehicle or trailer from tipping over.
- Ensure the vehicle or trailer has its brakes on and any stabilisers are used to keep it as steady as possible.
- Where possible, drivers should not remain in their cabs, nor should they be permitted to stand on the trailer or in proximity to the load or the material handling equipment. Instead, you should provide a safe place from where they can watch the loading/unloading and direct loading operations to ensure loads are stable and evenly distributed. (The driver is responsible to the safety and security of the load once it has left your premises).
- Ensure the vehicle is loaded within its capacity. Overloaded vehicles can become unstable, difficult to steer or less able to brake.
- If visiting drivers unload their own vehicles, you must provide the necessary instructions, equipment and co-operation for safe unloading. Arrangements will need to be agreed in advance between the haulier and yourselves.
- Some goods are difficult to secure during transport. Hauliers and yourselves will need to exchange information in advance so that safe unloading procedures can be put in place.
- Put safeguards in place to prevent drivers accidentally driving away too early. This does happen and is extremely dangerous. Measures could include:
- Traffic lights.
- Vehicle or trailer restraints.
- The person in charge of loading/unloading could keep hold of the vehicle keys or paperwork until it is safe for the vehicle to be moved.
These safeguards would be especially effective where there may be communication problems, for example where foreign drivers are involved.
Remember: You have a duty of care to all visitors to your site, and this includes provision of access to welfare facilities.
Even the most cursory scan through the reports of prosecutions pursued by HSE shows that a single, common thread runs through them all: a failure to undertake risk assessments and create a safe system of work.
If you are changing the way you work, are dealing with changed circumstances or wish to review your existing operations, why not visit our comprehensive dossier of Risk Assessments and make sure you are properly set up. Find Risk Assessments here.
You and the law
Employers are obligated to keep all those on site safe, including visiting personnel. This is outlined under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 which states:
“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.”
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require sufficient risk assessments to protect staff.
L117 (Rider-operated lift trucks: Operator training and safe use) recommends that safety policies for people, plant and equipment consider the safe movement of lift trucks and loads. “Reduce risks at points where lift trucks might meet other traffic or pedestrians, including areas where lift trucks load and unload other vehicles. This risk assessment should form the basis of a safe system of work, and you should take account of the extra risk when planning lifting operations.”