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Viridor driver killed under his own runaway lorry

A recycling and waste management company whose employee was killed by his runaway lorry after he failed to apply the handbrake has been fined £237,500.

Viridor driver killed under his own runaway lorry

Viridor worker Lee Jane was removing skips of ash from Derriford Hospital’s incinerator in Plymouth on 8 June 2015.  

He had parked the lorry on a sloping public road outside the incinerator building and was coupling the lorry to the skip trailer when he lost control of the combination. 

He was dragged under the wheels of the trailer and sustained fatal injuries as he tried to stop the vehicles. They continued rolling down the hill and collided with the hospital radio building. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the brake of the lorry had not been applied and that Viridor had failed to adequately risk assess the job.  

According to local newspaper The Herald, the company had a generic risk assessment for loading and unloading skips and coupling trailers but it was not suited to the hospital site.

It reported that the 56-year-old had been told by another driver to park on the sloping road despite the fact it was hatched to prevent people stopping there. The HSE found that suitable flat areas were available. 

Inspector Georgina Speake said: “It is my view that there were level areas within the hospital grounds that the defendant should have identified and designated for the drivers to load the skips and couple the trailer. 

“The fact that the location chosen was on an incline heightened the need for careful risk assessment, and this was not done.” 

The lorry and trailer reportedly rolled across two zebra crossings, a road junction and into railings before it hit the hospital building and came to a halt. 

In a statement Viridor said: “We recognise that, with the benefit of hindsight, the risk assessment associated with this case could have been more focused and we have taken action to address this. 

“Health, safety and wellbeing is a priority and we will continue to take reasonable steps to safeguard our people as they go about their work.” 

The company pleaded guilty to breaching reg 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. It was fined and ordered to pay costs of £128,429 at Plymouth Crown Court on 20 April. 


Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • So when does operator error

    Permalink Submitted by Jeremy Rowland on 24 April 2018 - 02:39 pm

    So when does operator error apply? This was entirely the drivers fault he had passed a driving test and more than likely drove his own car to work; common sense tells anybody that something with wheels will roll down a hill this is not rocket science so the fault was HIS and not his employers. This is so typical of the 'blame society' in which we all now live; nobody wishes to see anybody get hurt but you as an individual also have to take responsibility for your own actions and this mans blood was on his own head.

    • Permalink, I agree. Its awful

      Permalink Submitted by MMC on 24 April 2018 - 04:06 pm

      Permalink, I agree. Its awful that someone has lost their life but people have to take responsibility for their actions. The law even requires employees to take responsibility for their own health and safety.
      The more that individuals are held accountable, the less chance there will be of them taking unnecessary risks.

  • As the article says the

    Permalink Submitted by Peter Bowmaker on 24 April 2018 - 04:33 pm

    As the article says the employer should have suggested a safer area to park as this would have removed that part of the risk.

  • The prosecution was for the

    Permalink Submitted by Angela on 24 April 2018 - 05:00 pm

    The prosecution was for the failure to do a risk assessment, not his actions in not applying the hand brake.

  • I agree with Jeremy.

    Permalink Submitted by Paul Allaway on 24 April 2018 - 08:16 pm

    I agree with Jeremy.
    At any moment a driver or operator of a vehicle makes a mistake.. or perhaps a fundamental error in judgement does this set a precedent for a HSE prosecution and large fines.? Whilst appreciating the tragedy I feel that writing on a risk assessment that all connections to a trailer unit must be carried out in accordance with the vehicles driver operating manual may appear to be obvious.. I think the foreseeability v hindsight may be at an inbalance here?

  • On the basis of this report I

    Permalink Submitted by Bernard on 25 April 2018 - 12:54 pm

    On the basis of this report I agree with Jeremy.
    Surely a risk assessment will ensure that the operator is competent (trained, experienced, able, knowledgeable) and not go into the ins and out of how he should operate. If you park a vehicle you apply the handbrake. It's very sad, but it was his error.

  • Oh dear. Where is your

    Permalink Submitted by Andrew Floyd on 25 April 2018 - 08:09 pm

    Oh dear. Where is your humility and understanding? It sounds like H&S closing ranks.
    If you are relying on someones ability to drive a motor car and pass a totally inadequate test. Do you then expect them to drive/operate work equipment?
    The fault and tragic outcome lies totally with the company and its H&S advisors. Viridor is a large player in this industry and I bet they have one of the most expensive H&S management systems that money can buy. I bet they have a wall of manuals, policies, procedures and risk assessment (generic), none of which were relevant in protecting this poor man and his family.
    I suggest that instead of sitting around the office tinkering with LTIs, looking at Bradley curves and further generic risk assessments, their advisors get out and talk to their employees. Understand what they do how they do it, what are their concerns and requirements, then go and draw up a risk assessment that is relevant, reflects and (focused) on what they do. The company has failed this person.

    • Sorry but this WAS the

      Permalink Submitted by Jeremy Rowland on 26 April 2018 - 12:32 pm

      Sorry but this WAS the drivers fault and not his employers you cannot claim that he was not trained I passed an HGV driving test years ago and it was not an easy test to pass likewise this man could not have been driving a vehicle such as this without passing a similar test, in addition to the car driving test that this man would also have passed so he was more than adequately trained.
      Furthermore the error that he made could have been made by anybody you have to take account of your own actions, the employer was in no way to blame, they could have had reams of risk assessments for every eventuality but you cannot change human nature and the man or woman that has not had an accident does not exist.
      Where is the point at which you say operator error or company fault the trouble is the law is biased against companies, as a Health & Safety professional I see people in this game who think that pieces of paper can prevent human mistakes, sadly that will never happen the best we can do is to try and prevent such tragedies but apportioning blame is not the way forward just as trying to hypothetically wrap people in cotton wool is not the way forward.

  • You have just answered my

    Permalink Submitted by Andrew Floyd on 26 April 2018 - 11:45 pm

    You have just answered my point. You made the reference to his driving to work. The training received was obviously not adequate and the risk assessment being generic was not only inadequate but didn't reflect the task. What I was alluding to was exactly NO amount of paperwork will compensate for human frailty and fragility. As a "professional" you have to come out of the obsession with paperwork, process, and the blame culture and talk to people. A man died. The company were found guilty because their "extensive" paperwork did not cover the task. End of "game"!

  • Permalink and Andrew Floyd

    Permalink Submitted by Alan D on 27 April 2018 - 10:10 am

    Permalink and Andrew Floyd both have valid points.
    But.. A generic risk assessment is not task specific and the law requires an RA to be that, also simply writing an assessment does not mean it was effectively communicated to the employees and those if applies to.
    Given the relatively low cost of the fine, given the new sentencing guidelines and the fact that a man lost his life, I would suggest that the companies efforts were taken into account by the judge, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that as an employer you have a duty to provide both a safe place and a safe system of work ~ just as an employee has a duty to follow any H&S guidance given to them.

  • When I read this first I didn

    Permalink Submitted by Ronnie on 27 April 2018 - 02:14 pm

    When I read this first I didn’t think that it was anyone's fault but the driver for this unfortunate accident, however the company are liable but not ensuring that the driver parked on level ground and ensured that the brakes were applied prior to the work beginning. It could easily have been included in the driver's instruction sheet to not load on the sloping area.

  • I think that there is a

    Permalink Submitted by Geoff on 27 April 2018 - 04:21 pm

    I think that there is a general consensus here that fault lays with the driver.
    If he would not apply the hand brake when parked on a slope, what is the likelihood that he would have read and acted upon a risk assessment, no matter how robust it may be?

  • I agree Geoff

    Permalink Submitted by Barry on 30 April 2018 - 03:07 pm

    I agree Geoff
    If the company had supplied a detailed risk assessment and the driver had read and signed onto it, would the company still have been liable and fined??
    Probably not, but then they would probably have been be prosecuted for insufficient supervision or some other BS

  • How can a company monitor

    Permalink Submitted by Marc Owen on 4 May 2018 - 09:21 am

    How can a company monitor every external point at which becomes a working environment for that employee ? Instruction, information and Training. Statue law requires that Risk Assessments must be suitable and sufficient. The organisations failure would have been in the generic RA, Training needs to be provided for the employee so they can conduct their own RA, they need to be familiar with hazards and potential hazards. Yes you are correct that under s7 the employees has responsibilities for his own acts and omissions.
    In the event of any accident or incident the organisation has failed in providing that duty of care, the evidence is there, the accident or incident has happened. The organisation has to prove that it took all reasonable steps to control risks. The key I feel here is lesson learning. Provide training for delivery point risk assessments to ensure that the employee is aware of the risk associated with that task

  • I'm sorry for the loss of

    Permalink Submitted by wendy francis on 9 May 2018 - 02:53 pm

    I'm sorry for the loss of life here but seriously if someone is trying to tell me that a person is unaware that parking on a slope without applying a handbrake will not cause a serious danger to himself and others then no amount of paperwork telling him this is so will make one oz of difference. Why in this day and age do we feel that writing down a risk will prevent someone from doing something totally stupid and that writing in detail what a person already should know is irrelevant I'm my mind.

  • I once investigated an

    Permalink Submitted by Ian on 10 May 2018 - 01:23 pm

    I once investigated an incident (minor injury) where a tractor unit was being hooked-up and connected to a loaded trailer. The vehicle was fitted with an audible alarm to warn the driver if the parking brake had not been applied. On the day of the incident the driver was preoccupied with an illness in his close family and their mind was not at that time on the job in-hand. Operating at a subconscious level with mind and thoughts elsewhere, the driver continued doing the same task that had been done 1000's of time before. However, the audible alarm on the parking brake was unserviceable (which they said afterwards they were aware of) and it consequently failed to warn the driver that the brake had not been applied.
    The air brakes on the trailer are fail safe such that they are always on until air pressure builds up in the brake circuit. During the driver's walk around checks of the trailer he released the trailer parking brake in readiness to pull off once the trailer SUSI airlines had been connected to the tractor unit and the air pressure had built up to release the trailer brakes.
    The driver was in his mind relying on his tractor unit parking brake holding the trailer in place, however, the reality was that the trailer was actually holding the tractor unit in place. The driver was stood on the footplate at the rear of the tractor unit cab making the final electrical connections when the trailer and tractor unit now connected to each other began to roll backwards down a sloping trailer park. The driver had the foresight to jump clear before the tractor unit and trailer, now travelling backwards at speed collided into the front of another parked tractor unit. Significant damage was caused to the other parked tractor unit and by fortune no other persons were in the path of the collision course.
    I can't comment on what the Viridor investigation revealed, other than that 'the brake of the lorry had not been applied'. The incident that I investigated will only be avoided by drivers' not becoming distracted or complacent when these important tasks are taking place.
    The weak links in the health and safety chain are human factors for which risk assessments may not pay enough attention to the 'software' questions. As Jeremy put it above in his own post 'the man or woman that has not had an accident does not exist'. Humans have the unique ability to disconnect the mind from the physical body. Our minds can be on the other side of the planet, or anywhere else for that matter that it chooses to be - you and I frequently take shortcuts and frequently make mistakes, we daydream, we get stressed and we all get depressed from time-to-time, it's inherent in our DNA. Sadly for the gentleman involved and his family, he will not be given the opportunity to learn from his own frailties to correct them.

  • If I leave my car in Tescos

    Permalink Submitted by John on 14 September 2018 - 12:44 pm

    If I leave my car in Tescos car park and it rolls away. I don’t think Tesco will be blamed for the incident!
    Same should apply, as sad as it is, driver error !


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