Justin Tyas examines a case in which a recycling firm was fined £200,000 after an unsupervised and inexperienced employee was crushed to death by a piece of machinery.

Background

This prosecution followed a fatal accident in which an employee was killed instantly when the arm of a skid-steer loader dropped and crushed his head. On the day of the accident, the employee, who was young and inexperienced, was working alone to load scrap paper onto a conveyor. After finishing, the employee stopped the vehicle and raised the safety bar from across his lap to isolate the equipment before he leaned out of the front of the vehicle. The loader’s lifting equipment failed to isolate and the arm fell, crushing his head against the machine and killing him.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching ss.2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and was fined £120,000 and £80,000 respectively for each breach.

The industry

Vehicles incorporating lifting equipment are used extensively throughout the waste and recycling, and construction-related industries. A skid-steer loader works by powering the wheels on one side and braking on the other; the vehicle can effectively pivot around its own axis, making it highly manoeuvrable.

Major risks in the waste and recycling industry include:

  • transport

  • slips and trips

  • falls from height

  • cuts

  • machinery

  • manual handling

  • violence.

Incidents involving workplace transport are among the most common causes of occupational fatalities in the UK. Fatalities and major injuries result from being struck by a vehicle, falling from a vehicle, being hit by materials falling from a vehicle, being hit against a vehicle while travelling in it or as a result of a vehicle collapsing or overturning. The risks associated with transport-related lifting operations within the waste and recycling industry are well established.

Statutory requirements

In this incident, the prosecution identified a failure to maintain the skid-steer loader, failure to adequately train the operative in its safe use and a failure to assess the risks associated with the loader.

Section 2(1) of HSWA states: “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.”

Section 3(1) 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.”

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 go further and make explicit what employers are required to do to manage health and safety at work. The principal requirement is to carry out a risk assessment to determine what could cause harm to workers and others, so that employers can determine whether they have taken sufficient precautions or need to do more to prevent harm. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides industry-specific advice and information to assist those responsible for waste management and recycling.

Transport-related lifting operations

Transport-related lifting operations can cause death and major injuries within the waste and recycling industry if they are not effectively managed.

The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 place duties on those who own, operate and have control over lifting equipment. These duties include requirements concerning:

  • positioning and installation (regulation 6), to reduce to as low as is reasonably practicable the risk of the equipment or a load striking a person

  • the operation of lifting equipment (regulation 8), so that it is properly planned by a competent person, supervised and carried out in a safe manner

  • the thorough examination and inspection (regulation 9) by a competent person at least annually for equipment not used for lifting people, or at intervals laid down in an examination scheme drawn up by a competent person.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require lifting attachment points and other safety-critical parts to be adequately maintained in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations. This should include an appropriate regime of inspection, testing and maintenance.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require traffic on sites to be organised and safely managed. The firm prosecuted for this fatal accident was also prosecuted for two separate fatal accidents in the UK. In one of these incidents, a waste lorry operative was fatally injured while unloading at a site when he was crushed between the front of his vehicle and the rear of a tracked bulldozer, his lorry having been pushed from the rear by a waste site compactor vehicle.

Failings

The HSE’s investigation into this fatal accident identified a number of significant failings.

  • The employee had never received formal training or assessment on how to operate the skid-steer loader safely. A self-employed maintenance engineer had also operated the vehicle for several months without training.

  • The loader had not been maintained in the eight months before the accident, and should have been serviced at least twice during this period.

  • The employee was inexperienced and was left unsupervised to operate the loader.

  • The firm’s risk assessments should have identified these significant issues but they did not cover the use of this loader.

Lessons learned

One of the significant failings was that the employee who was killed had not received any formal training or assessment on how to operate the skid-steer loader. While effective training regimes might include elements of “on-the-job-training”, it is important that such regimes are developed to meet the needs of employees so that they are competent for the work they will be undertaking.

National standards for training and competence exist within many areas of the waste management and recycling industry through the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) framework. The standards provide a benchmark and can be used to ensure employees become and remain competent. A training needs analysis should be undertaken to identify requirements, and these should be informed by effective risk assessments, audits and accident data.

The elements of an effective training plan should include an assessment of risks for planned and unplanned tasks, assessments of individual capabilities, including less experienced employees, and dealing with special circumstances.

Risk assessments are essential for developing successful health and safety systems and procedures. The firm’s risk assessments should have covered the use of the skid-steer loader and should have been used to develop suitable controls. Effective supervision, especially of those with less experience and competence, is a vital component, necessary for safe transport and lifting operations.

This fatal accident also demonstrates the need to ensure suitable systems for examination, inspection, testing and maintenance of lifting and associated equipment. The HSE issued a skid-steer loader safety alert as a result of this fatality. It found two possible causes for the failure of the interlock, one of which was that the machine could have been adequately maintained, but a design limitation on this type of loader could have resulted in the interlock failing to activate. Ultimately, the interlock failure, combined with unsafe working practices, led to this entirely preventable fatality.

Last reviewed 1 May 2013