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Council fined after worker suffered severe life changing injuries

Date:
18 December 2013

South Lanarkshire Council has been fined after a driver suffered severe abdominal crush injuries when he was trapped between the lifting hoist and the side of a refuse vehicle.

Derek Maitland, 37, of Castlemilk, Glasgow, required extensive surgery to repair damaged arteries and had to most of his colon and small bowel removed following the incident in Glen Turret, East Kilbride, on 13 January 2011.

He can no longer eat and digest food as normal and requires to be fed intravenously. However, in spite of these serious and life changing injuries, he has returned to  work.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and South Lanarkshire Council was prosecuted at Hamilton Sheriff Court today (18 December).

Mr Maitland was one of a three-man crew and had been driving a glass recycling  vehicle when the side lifter jammed in an upright position.

Mr Maitland unplugged the side lifter’s pendant control unit and took it into the vehicle’s cab to dry out. This had been done in the past when unexpected stoppages had occurred.

A short time later he went back outside to reconnect the pendant control unit , but it appears the vehicle’s engine had been left running, which meant power was delivered to the mechanism. The hoist activated and lowered, trapping him by his torso against the vehicle.

HSE determined that the incident occurred as a result of a combination of inadequate risk assessment, the lack of a safe system of work, and a failure to provide adequate information, instruction, supervision and training.

The court heard that the pendant control units were prone to malfunctioning, especially in cold and wet weather, and a practice had developed of drivers and vehicle crews dealing with the problem by unplugging them and taking them into the cab to dry and warm them. This did not take long and once warmed and re-attached, allowed the vehicle to resume work without the need to wait for maintenance staff to arrive.

Although the council’s safe system of work stated that employees should not attempt to repair faulty equipment and that any defects should be reported, it failed to specifically mention the removal and reconnection of the pendant controllers.

Following the incident the council carried out a review and amended its system of work to prevent a recurrence.

South Lanarkshire Council, of Almada Street, Hamilton, was fined £50,000 after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.   Following the case, HSE Inspector Eve Macready, said:

“Mr Maitland is clearly fortunate not to have died as a result of this incident and the surgery that was required was truly lifesaving. He has, however, been left with serious, life-changing injuries and only time will tell what complications may arise in relation to his medical condition.

“South Lanarkshire Council understood the risks of working with such vehicles but although supervisors were aware of this developing practice relating to the removal of the pendant controllers, they did nothing to discourage it. The systems of work in place should have triggered activity to stop this practice or review existing arrangements. .

“This was combined with insufficient training and instruction for employees involved in operating these vehicles and South Lanarkshire Council failed in its duty to protect its employees.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation.
  3. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states: “It is the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.”
  4. Section 2(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states: “Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular –  the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.”
  5. Section 2(2)(e) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states: “Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular – the provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.”