Waste pile asphyxiation provides first test of sentencing guidelines for companies no longer trading
Wednesday 16th November 2016
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New Earth Solutions, a waste treatment business that was fined £80,000 after an employee was buried in a pile of waste and asphyxiated, would have had to pay £600,000 if it was not in administration, IOSH Magazine has learnt. The case is believed to be the first application of the new sentencing guidelines to a firm that has stopped trading.
Neville Watson worked at the company's Blaise Farm Quarry site in Kent, which is licensed to process up to 50,000 tonnes of waste a year. On 9 August 2014, he was working alone beside a heap of comingled waste more than 8 m tall in a warehouse, operating a shredder.
At the end of his shift, he got out of the cab of his shovel loader beside the heap and attached the shredder to it to tow it from the building. The heap collapsed on him and he was asphyxiated.
Health and Safety Executive inspector Guy Widdowson said it was not clear what had caused the slip but that "when you take material from the pile you create a steeper face".
Watson had to put himself at risk by getting out of the cab because a remote control that would have coupled the shredder to his vehicle automatically and released the brakes had developed a fault and been sent for repair.
Widdowson said the employee was "newish" to the task, having covered others' breaks but had never been left in sole control. A colleague gave him basic instruction the day before but nothing on the risks the heap posed.
He said that in the absence of the remote control, the task should have been "fundamentally rethought [...] the key thing was not to have people in proximity to a big pile of waste".
New Earth Solutions pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Sentencing the firm on 7 November, Justice Statman noted the firm had ceased trading and that the sentencing guidelines were "silent as to how to sentence companies in administration" but that it was right and proper to apply the structured approach they offered.
He assessed culpability as medium, harm level as A (reflecting the fatality) and high risk of harm, putting the offence in the guidelines' category 1. The offence was a significant cause of actual harm.
When solvent, the firm, which operated five sites, would have been classed as a medium-sized organisation for turnover and the fine would have been set at £600,000. But its debts led the judge to apply the penalty range for a micro-organisation, creating a penalty of £120,000 reduced to £80,000 to reflect a guilty plea. Costs were set at £38,000.
David Lloyd notified Hounslow Council’s health and safety officers of the incident, who found a series of failures during their investigation. Isleworth Crown Court was told that five-year-old Blakeney Dear, who could not swim, was taking part in a swimming activity at the club during half term, on 19 and 20 February 2013.
Maidstone Crown Court was told that New Earth Solutions Group employee Neville Watson, 39, was working close to the waste heap on 9 August 2014, carrying out a shredding task at the company’s Blaise Farm Quarry site in West Malling, Kent. He had connected a shredder to the loading shovel he was driving when the pile collapsed on him. He died from asphyxiation. It was the first time Watson had operated the shredding machine, Kent Online reported.
Aylesbury Crown Court was told that three computer numeric control (CNC) machine operators employed by Martin Baker were exposed to metalworking fluid for many years and developed a lung disease known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA) – an allergic reaction to breathing in mist and vapour from the fluid. Symptoms of the disease include coughing, shortness of breath and joint pain.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry said that its Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) programme cited four “wilful” and 115 “serious” violations and $1,012,400 in penalties to the multinational tyre manufacturer earlier this month as a result of comprehensive site inspections. Four workers have died in accidents at the plant since August last year.
The separate incidents occurred in 2014 and 2015 during construction of the railway tunnel, which runs from the east to the west of the capital. BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman (UK) and Kier Infrastructure and Overseas – which together make up the BFK joint venture that, in 2011, was contracted with building twin running tunnels and station enlargements along the Crossrail route – will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court next month.
The plant mechanic, employed by Countrystyle Recycling, was fixing the shredder on 7 October 2013. A metal plate forming the roof of the hammer drum – in which waste material is smashed into smaller pieces by hammers – had become detached. Maidstone Magistrates’ Court heard the employee was kneeling on a conveyor belt inside the shredder when it restarted. He was thrown from the machine, fracturing his right leg and left arm.