A multi-million pound sandwich manufacturer has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an employee was nearly crushed to death at its Warwickshire factory.
Leamington Crown Court heard how the agency worker was lucky to be alive following the near fatal work accident at the Atherton-based food company in July 2012.
On the day of the accident, the worker was standing astride a pallet truck balanced on the forks of a forklift. He was being lifted by the forklift so he could access the back of a delivery lorry to unload pallets of sandwiches. But when the forklift jolted forwards, he was thrown from the forks and crushed between them and the delivery lorry.
The Atherstone man, who is in his 20s, suffered a fractured pelvis, several broken vertebrae, and blood blisters all over his body. Following the accident, the HSE began an investigation and served the company with a series of improvement notices.
After Sandwich Factory Holdings Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of employees and of people other than employees at its premises, in breach of Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay costs of £57,790.
The then-Director of Operations pleaded guilty to two breaches of Section 37(1) of the same Act on the basis of negligence. He was given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £50,513. The Judge found that he had failed to ensure safety management systems were in place and, had they been in place, such unsafe work practices would never have occurred.
In sentencing, the Judge said it was a “true mercy” the injured worker wasn’t killed. “The system being operated by the Sandwich Factory Ltd at the time was a disaster waiting to happen. It all arose as a result for pushed growth and a desire for profitability that was given priority over the safety of employees.”
The firm made and supplied packed sandwiches to the retail sector and, as well as its own employees, it used up to 200 agency workers across four locations. The court heard how difficulties arose after the company won a significant contract which increased their business substantially.
Their Cranford site, where the accident occurred, saw an increased volume of HGV traffic as a result of the successful bid but, because there was insufficient room for the vehicles to park, they were often loaded and unloaded in the road.
Traffic management at the site was described by one employee as “a free-for-all.” The HSE said that everyone at senior level within the company was aware there were problems with the movement of vehicles at the firm’s premises. In addition, the surface of the road where lorries were unloaded was potholed and hence unsuitable for forklift trucks.
On the day of the accident, the driver who had been asked to drive the forklift was unlicensed to do so and unfamiliar with the type of vehicle he was given. Furthermore, workers had also become used to standing astride the forklift forks to access the back of the delivery lorries as there was a shortage of ladders at the site.
This man was clearly incredibly lucky he wasn’t killed as this accident could so easily have resulted in him losing his life. The severe injuries he suffered could have been prevented had the firm ensured proper safety systems governing transport operations were in place.
Mismanagement of vehicles at work continues to be a major cause of fatal and serious injuries. Each year, there are more than 5,000 incidents involving transport operations at work with around 50 of which resulting in someone losing their life.
John Reeder is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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