HSE inspector Julian Franklin explains how the unplanned lift of a 14.5m conveyor system led to the death of a haulage company worker.
On 17 August 2018, 51-year-old Anthony Clark was part of a team moving a large conveyor system from one trailer to another for specialist heavy haulage firm GCS Johnson Ltd. As the team of workers at GCS Johnson’s depot attempted to move the conveyor, a section of the machinery fell from the bed of the trailer hitting Clark and killing him instantly.
We spoke to Health and Safety Executive inspector Julian Franklin about how this happened.
‘GCS Johnson is a specialist heavy haulage company that transports loads around the UK and around Europe. In this incident, a driver from GCS Johnson had picked up a large conveyor system from a factory in Belgium and it was brought to GCS Johnson’s base in Barton, North Yorkshire. The decision was then taken to move it from the trailer it was on, onto a smaller trailer for onward passage to Ireland. The industry phrase for this is, the conveyor was to be “transhipped”,’ he said.
‘The workers set about doing that. The conveyor was 14.5m long and the team couldn’t get under the middle of it with the forklift at the first lift, so they had to raise one end up and then put a railway sleeper under it to allow the forklift driver to reposition the forklift and lift it from the middle.
‘Unfortunately, they didn’t know the conveyor was in two large parts – they had assumed it was one single piece. When they lifted the end, the smaller of the two parts fell off the trailer and hit Clark, who was waiting to place the piece of wood under it.
‘The total weight of the conveyor on the shipping manifest was more than eight tonnes and, although this was the smaller of the two section of the conveyor, this piece still weighed more than one tonne.’
The HSE was informed of the incident and a number of Franklin’s colleagues were sent to investigate it, including one of the HSE’s specialist mechanical engineering inspectors.
‘Heavy lifting and specialist haulage is GCS Johnson’s particular area of business. We discovered that when its staff goes to a customer’s premises to load something onto their trailers, they will prepare a lifting plan done by a competent person and a risk assessment, and they will follow that procedure carefully,’ he said.
‘However, transhipping at GCS Johnson’s own depot was done on a much more ad hoc basis. It had trained, competent forklift drivers who had access to heavy lift forklift trucks and mobile cranes, and it relied on the competence of its staff to do it. But there was no planning, no management and no risk assessment for transhipment activities carried out by the company – it was something they simply got on with when it needed doing.
‘Unfortunately, nobody had assessed this load to realise that it was in two separate parts. It was stacked together on the trailer in a way that looked like it was an assembled conveyor on first glance. If they had looked more closely, they would have realised that it was in fact in two parts because the two separate sections didn’t line up together.’
On 3 May 2023, at Leeds Magistrates’ Court, GCS Johnson Limited of Barton Park, Barton, Richmond, North Yorkshire pleaded guilty to breaching s2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £18,355.07 in costs.
What should have happened?
‘Somebody competent should have planned and managed the lift, and they should have made sure that all necessary personnel were out of the way while the conveyor was being lifted,’ Franklin said.
‘Clark was there to put a piece of timber under the conveyor at one end and, unfortunately, he couldn’t be seen by the man who was driving the forklift, who was notionally in charge of the operation. If Clark had stayed out of the way until the components had been lifted, he would still be alive because the falling section would have missed him.
‘Alternatively, this could have been assessed as a complex lift. A 14.5m-long conveyor is never really suitable to be lifted from underneath by a forklift truck. There were no fork pockets on the conveyor for a forklift truck, so it wasn’t really suitable for a straightforward lift with a forklift truck. It should have been lifted suspended from above, possibly using a spreader beam and slings.
‘GCS Johnson now has generic assessment procedures for transhipping simple loads and it also has separate procedures in place to deal with complex lifts, which this was. Under GCS Johnson’s new procedures, it would have been assessed as a complex lift and would have involved a management assessment.’
Message for IOSH members
‘Managing lifting operations, wherever they are taking place, is important. The degree of management will depend on the sort of lift being carried out: a pallet of bricks using a forklift truck is a fairly simple lift; a 14.5m conveyor is not a simple lift and it does need proper management consideration, planning, and competent people,’ Franklin said.
‘The lifting operations and lifting equipment regulations require lifting operations to be planned, managed and supervised. Had that all been done, this incident would never have happened because it would have been assessed that this conveyor was not suitable for lifting in that fashion.
‘For more help, HSE has detailed guidance on the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations. And there is also guidance on the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations on the HSE website.’