*UPDATE* Two-year jail sentence for director follows MEWP failure fatality
A plant hire boss has been jailed for two years after his company hired out an unsafe cherry picker that buckled while it was in use, causing the death of one worker and seriously injuring another.
The mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) was owned by Craig Services and Access, which was managed by Donald Craig. He was found guilty of a charge under s 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act at Airdrie Sheriff Court and sentenced on 6 January after a 16-day trial. Craig had denied the allegations.
His company was fined £61,000 for failing to ensure that operators were not exposed to the risk of injury or death, for failing to maintain the equipment, and for hiring out the cherry picker when it had not been certified as safe.
It was found guilty of three charges under ss 3 and 33(1)(a) of the HSW Act, reg 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, and reg 9(3)(a)(i) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations.
Another company, J M Access Solutions, which had been hired to carry out statutory thorough inspections, was found guilty of breaching ss 3 and 33(1)(a) of the HSW Act and fined £30,000. It had also pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court was told that Gary Currie and Alexander Nisbet were working in the basket of the cherry picker, at a height of about 30 m, when the collapse happened on 20 June 2012 at Buchanan House, an office block in Port Dundas Road, Glasgow. Currie was removing netting from the building’s facade and Nisbet was operating the platform.
The case was prosecuted by Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The investigation found that the third boom section of the MEWP (known as main boom three) had buckled, crashing the basket to the ground, killing Currie and seriously injuring his colleague.
Sheriff Petra Collins said the company had been under an absolute duty to ensure the cherry picker was in good working order and that it was thoroughly inspected at least every six months.
J M Access Solutions was fined for its failure to carry out a systematic and detailed examination of the platform and its safety-critical parts.
The court was told of an earlier incident in Penicuik, Midlothian, on 17 May 2011 when the cherry picker’s boom buckled while it was in use. On that occasion, the boom’s fall was halted by the roof of a block of flats.
The failure of main boom three was never fully investigated after the incident, the court was told. CTE Spa, the representative of the cherry picker’s manufacturer, had advised Craig Services to replace at least main boom three but the company chose instead to repair it. This information was relayed to CTE Spa by email on 10 February 2012. Sheriff Collins said Craig Services had neither a manufacturer’s approval nor specification for the proposed repair.
Such was the damage to main boom three, it was clear that both a major repair and an extensive modification were needed, the court was told. However, the company’s manager had instructed a firm of welders to carry out the repairs, stating that main boom three would be nested inside the second section of the boom.
As repairs proceeded, Craig assured the welder that the platform would be used only as a short-reach machine and would not be load bearing. Craig Services failed to modify the cherry picker to ensure main boom three did not bear loads.
Head of health and safety division at the Crown Office, Gary Aitken, said: “At the centre of this all was the decision to instruct the repair. It was a decision that left Currie and Nisbet exposed to an unacceptable risk.”
HSE principal inspector Graeme McMinn added: “At the time of the accident, the MEWP had a catalogue of defects, some of which were safety-critical, demonstrating that Craig Services did not have an adequate proactive maintenance and reactive repair system in place within the company.”
McMinn also said the competence and diligence of a thorough examiner was vital.
Nick Warburton is deputy editor of IOSH Magazine