A tour bus operator, The Original London Sightseeing Tour Limited has been fined after a mechanical engineer suffered serious injuries while working underneath one of its vehicles.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard the 58-year-old employee was working underneath the vehicle at a bus depot while reseating an airbag on one of the firm’s open topped London buses. The vehicle had been raised approximately two feet off the ground and was supported on its axles by wooden blocks and column vehicle lifts.
The court was told that the man was being assisted by a colleague who was raising and lowering the bus using the vehicle lift control on his instruction. However, one of the wooden blocks broke and the axle dropped onto the mechanic breaking his pelvis and several ribs. He was hospitalised for two weeks, could not work for six months, and still suffers from pain.
The HSE investigation found risk assessments for the site had not been properly reviewed, nor were site engineers involved in the risk assessment process. The HSE identified that if this had been done, the company could have used another set of vehicle lifts which were available at the time of the incident, or taken the tri-axle buses to another depot where there were numerous vehicle pits.
The HSE inspector expressed her concern that the use of wooden blocks in this way could easily have resulted in a fatality. It was foreseeable that the blocks were likely to give way, putting the lives of employees at risk.
So why was a suitable risk assessment not in place; is it because in our experience many maintenance departments drag their heels over undertaking risk assessments? Take for example, a large paper company we have worked with where much effort has gone into assessing risks for production activities but far less into maintenance tasks. When challenged, the response is often that so many tasks are non-routine and therefore could not possibly all be assessed, could they?!
Our answer is of course they can but maybe the way you go about it requires a different approach, such as dynamic risk assessments. For this to work, employees will need to be well trained and will need some method of writing up the assessment. If not then it’s likely that the business would be falling foul of the law and could find itself at risk of prosecution, as this bus company was.