“No safe system of work in place” was the verdict on two accidents occurring within minutes of each other at the same company, which led to the death of one employee and seriously injured the second.
A court heard that both incidents involved pre-formed concrete, staircase landing blocks – weighing nearly three tonnes each - toppling over during attempts to handle and load.
The first incident occurred when a 17-year-old employee tried to lean a staircase landing block forward against the raised arms of a fork-lift truck. The landing block failed to balance correctly and instead toppled backwards onto the employee. Luckily, the landing struck a bar, which prevented the young man from being crushed but left him with severe bruising.
Just twenty minutes later, the driver of the forklift truck involved in the earlier incident was fatally injured by a second, unsecured staircase landing block. The employee, aged 37, was carrying out ‘finishing’ work on the landing, which was upended onto its narrow edge and resting on two wooden batons. The landing block also toppled over, crushing the employee who died instantly.
No support or restraint for the staircases and landings
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no support or restraint for the staircases and landings when they were stored on their narrow edge. The company had failed to provide a safe system of work for turning the staircase landing blocks over on to their back and also neglected to carry out a risk assessment to the suitability of the task for a “young person”.
The precast concrete company was fined a total of £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £60,636 after pleading guilty to two offences under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
During the investigation, the company said that the method of loading the staircase landings had been previously changed to the use of an overhead crane to hold the landing blocks while they were on their side and being worked on. However, it was reported that the method was unworkable and apparently, the practice was soon abandoned.
The defence lawyers admitted that the employers had been guilty of “failing to put in place clear systems they should have foreseen”. A company spokesman said if he had known workers had gone back to the old method of working, he would have changed the risk assessment.
Since the two incidents, the loading procedure has been changed back to using the overhead crane, together with a gravel pit to ensure the landing blocks are secured safely while resting on their narrow sides.