Skipton based JN Bentley has been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling almost £200,000 following the death of a 23 year old Keighley man.
The contractor pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety law and was fined £106,250 and ordered to pay costs of £90,000 by Bradford Crown court.
Steve Allen died from massive crush injuries when his head became trapped in the jaws of a grab machine being wrongly used to move a pallet of cement bags in March 2007.
He was part of a team working on a building project for Bradford Council in Manningham.
Moving the 30 or so cement bags was to be the last job before the weekend when the incident happened.
Bradford Crown Court heard this week that workers used a block grab attached to an excavator to move the load. As they did, the bags fell two metres to the ground, but the pallet remained in the jaws of the block grab. The pallet pivoted and Mr Allen took hold of it to pull it free. As the pallet came away, the jaws dropped and clamped on his head, causing severe injuries. He died the following day.
The Health and Safety Executive mounted the prosecution against JN Bentley.
The court was told the HSE’s findings revealed that the grab was being used against manufacturer’s instructions and was not suitable for the job.
The company had also failed to implement a safe system for lifting and transporting the bags of cement.
HSE Principal Inspector, Dave Redman said: “The firm made a fundamental error by using a block grab to lift and move pallets and this resulted in the tragic death of a young man. This use was very clearly advised against by the manufacturers and the risks should have been understood by the company.
“Nevertheless, they allowed machinery to be used on their site which was totally unsuitable for the task. No assessment was made regarding the use of the grab and no instructions were given to the men who were operating it. Planning to make sure that work is carried out safely is not a formality or a tick-box exercise but is crucial to identifying and controlling risks.
“It shouldn’t take a death to remind employers that failure to properly plan the work can have tragic consequences. An alternative way of lifting the pallet should have been used. Pallets are designed to be lifted using fork attachments which could have been fitted to the excavator. This would have prevented the incident which led to Steven Allen’s death. If employers take their eye off the ball, it’s all too easy for otherwise safe and routine tasks to turn into unacceptable risks.”
Steven’s mother Judith Allen said after the hearing: “Whatever happens in court I know how unsafe working conditions led directly to my son’s death, and the ripple effect it has had on the lives of my family and the lives of his friends.
“The effects of Steven’s death continue to affect us all severely. Whatever fines are imposed it does not alter the fact that I have had my son taken from me, before he had chance to grow into the fine young man I know he would have become. This may be the end as far as prosecutions go, but our lives are blighted forever. The only consolation will be if it stops something like this happening again, and makes workers and the public far more aware than I was before Steven died, of the risks employers take with workers’ lives in trying to save money.”