The accident happened at the premises of Groveport Logistics at Gunness near Scunthorpe, an inland port on the River Trent, to which R Martinson provides labourers and vehicle operators.
One of Martinson’s HGV tipper trucks was no longer useable and the company assigned its transport manager, George Johnson, and his co-worker and qualified telehandler operator, Samuel Binns, to dismantle the vehicle for scrap.
The work started on 10 April 2014, when the two men dismantled the lorry’s cab unit, tipper container and lifting mechanism. On 14 April, work resumed to remove one of two 44 kg metal rails on which the tipper container sat.
The rail was rusted to the chassis. Binns moved the forks of the Manitou telehandler – similar to a rough terrain forklift truck but with the lifting forks on the end of a telescopic arm – between the chassis and the rail to try to prise it off. He applied too much pressure and the metal rail flew off the HGV’s chassis and struck Johnson, 68, who was standing next to the vehicle.
“Dismantling the HGV required a proper risk assessment and method statement for the two employees to follow,” HSE inspector David Welsh told IOSH Magazine. “Instead, they were left to get on with [it] on their own. Using a telehandler like a mobile crane to lift and move parts is a high-risk activity.”
The HSE said in court that, though it was possible to use the telehandler in an unconventional way such as this, the workers would have required extra training and instruction under competent supervision.
Johnson has been left with severe head injuries and he relies on his family for care.
At Scunthorpe Magistrates’ Court, R Martinson pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to provide a system of work for breaking down the HGV safely.
In his sentencing notes, District Judge Daniel Curtis said: “[R Martinson] had in place health and safety measures and procedures for its normal activities and has an unblemished record. This was an unusual activity to dismantle a HGV, with hindsight an operation that should have been outsourced.”
Under the new sentencing guidelines, he determined that the company was highly culpable: “I cannot ignore the fact that these two men were operating in an isolated site over a two-day period; this was a serious failure within the company to address the risks of health and safety. This was in effect unplanned misadventure.”
Judge Curtis determined that the seriousness of harm risked was Level A and that the likelihood of harm occurring had been high. The starting point for the fine, before adjustment, was £160,000. Though he had assessed R Martinson’s culpability as high, it was “not at the higher end of the scale” and he considered “how a severe financial penalty might impact on the company’s future”.
He added: “I accept the submission that this was not a deliberate act intended to cut costs but rather an over-reliance on the experience of its own employee.
"I have reduced the starting point to reflect where the company’s turnover puts it within this micro-company category and I have adjusted this downwards, reflecting the features identified above.”
He decreased the starting point to £80,000, which was reduced by one-third because of R Martinson’s early guilty plea. The company must pay £53,300 in addition to costs of £1,293.
Welsh said the company promised it would not attempt to dismantle another HGV. “It was a one-off activity,” he said. “They’ve given a commitment not to do this again and that’s the best they can do. It’s not their usual business activity and they tried to do something that they weren’t competent to plan, organise and supervise.”