A steel company has been ordered to pay more than £146,000 in fines and costs after an engineer was crushed to death by a crane.
The man was working as a maintenance engineer for C Brown & Sons (Steel) Ltd, when the incident took place. He had been asked to help change a drive wheel on an overhead travelling crane at the firm’s site in Dudley, West Midlands and in order to change the wheel he had to remove a buffer plate, which was positioned six-and-half metres up the crane.
He and another maintenance worker were lifted up to the plate in a cherry-picker. The man stepped onto the rail of the crane, while his colleague remained in the basket of the cherry-picker. He then carried out the work, despite not having been provided with a harness, or any other fall-prevention equipment.
When he was finished he then stepped on to the rail of an adjacent crane and sat down. The operator of the neighbouring crane was unaware that the engineer was sitting on the machine, and when he moved the crane, the engineer was crushed against an upright stanchion. He died at the scene from his injuries.
The HSE investigated the incident and found no safe system of work was in place to prevent crush injuries, or falls from height. Also, no measures were in place to ensure adjacent cranes were isolated in the bay while the work was taking place.
The HSE investigation showed that the company had been aware of the fall risks before the incident occurred. Documents showed the company had been aware of the risks for some time. A system to prevent falls from height – a line system whereby workers wearing a harness could clip on to the line – was being considered and an order was about to be placed at the time of the incident.
Despite knowing the risks, the company failed to put interim measures in place to prevent falls, nor had it adequately assessed the risk of maintenance staff being crushed by moving cranes. Regulations to prohibit cranes from approaching within six metres of any person working on or near the wheel tracks of the crane stretches back to the Factories Act 1961, yet the company failed to put in place sufficient measures to address this risk.
C Brown & Sons (Steel) Ltd appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was fined a total of £120,000 and ordered to pay £26,552 in costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had worked closely with the HSE following the incident. It has subsequently carried out risk assessments and put safe systems of work in place. It has now modified the cranes to allow workers to clip a harness on to a line. It also ensures other cranes are isolated, or moved to a safe distance, when maintenance work is being carried out.
Unfortunately for the deceased and his family this is of course all too late. We see too many situations across UK businesses where action is taken after the “horse has bolted” rather than taking positive action at an early stage. Let’s make sure this does not happen to your business; as it’s bad for business in so many ways.