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Company didn’t call ambulance for worker with broken neck

A logistics firm has been ordered to pay over £100,000 in fines and costs for failing to adequately train or monitor a forklift driver who suffered a broken neck when a computer cabinet he was moving fell on him.

Stafford Crown Court heard that Barry Hill, 60, has been left permanently disabled following the incident at Palletways (UK) Ltd’s distribution centre in Fradley, West Midlands.

On 22 August 2008, Mr Hill was using a forklift to move a number of faulty computer cabinets from a storage area to a trailer, so they could be returned to their manufacturer. He attempted to secure the cabinets to pallets with shrink wrap before transporting them to the trailer.

Having placed three of the cabinets on the trailer, he withdrew the forklift but noticed that one of the units was rocking. He rushed out of his vehicle and tried to catch the cabinet as it fell, but it was too heavy and he was knocked to the ground.

A trained first-aider assessed Mr Hill but did not recognise the seriousness of his injuries. Nobody called an ambulance and instead the first-aider drove Mr Hill by car to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a broken neck and wrist. He spent six weeks in hospital and 14 weeks in halo traction. He has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries and still suffers from discomfort in his neck.

The HSE’s investigation found that there was no risk assessment in place for this specific task. There was no formal training programme in place for lifting and securing items, and Mr Hill had been trained by a colleague who himself had not been assessed to ensure he was competent to provide training.

HSE inspector Lyn Spooner revealed that the company had also failed to supervise the work and, had it done so, it would have identified that Mr Hill didn’t know how to adequately secure the items with shrink wrap. She said: “This was a preventable incident that could easily have resulted in death, or paralysis.

“Any company that carries out lifting operations must assess the risks thoroughly, especially the need for proper training and supervision. There is no excuse for failing to do this, especially as free guidance is available from HSE.”

The inspector was similarly critical of the firm’s efforts in dealing with the incident. She said: “There was also a string of management failings in dealing with Mr Hill when he reported the incident. It was clear that he had suffered a head injury and Palletways (UK) should have treated this as a very serious incident and called an ambulance immediately.”

Palletways (UK) Ltd appeared in court on 9 January and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £41,339 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it accepted responsibility for the incident and said it took immediate action to address the issues highlighted by the investigation. It has carried out a risk assessment and subsequently put a system in place so that deliveries are closely monitored. Forklift drivers are now given instructions on how to identify unsafe loads and are closely monitored.

It has also told all staff that they must call an ambulance if anyone suffers a head injury and not to move the injured person until paramedics arrive.

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