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Scottish coal fined after driver injured

13 March 2013

Scottish Coal has been fined for safety failings after a delivery driver suffered severe crush injuries when a loading shovel reversed into his HGV trapping him between its tailgate and trailer.

James Hunter, 63, a HGV driver for 40 years, was cleaning coal debris from the tailgate of his 30-tonne HGV at Scottish Coal Company Limited’s Ravenstruther depot when the loading shovel backed into his HGV.

Mr Hunter suffered severe crush injuries to the chest and abdomen and was in hospital for a month. He also later had to undergo surgery after developing a hernia on the wound from the original operation. He suffers from ongoing back pain, has difficulty walking and has symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

On 13 March, Lanark Sheriff Court was told that Mr Hunter, who was employed by a subcontractor, had driven his HGV to the depot on 10 November 2009 and was directed to Grid 3 to tip his load by the weighbridge operator who radioed the shovel operator to tell him.

After emptying his HGV, Mr Hunter drove towards the southwest corner of the yard so he could clear the tailgate of loose coal. He got out of his vehicle and walked to the rear, standing in the gap between the tailgate and the body of the trailer. Although he was wearing a high visibility vest, part of his upper body was obscured by the tailgate.

Meanwhile, in order to clear Grid 3 for the next vehicle, the shovel operator pushed the coal further into the grid before reversing his vehicle out of the way. He checked his mirrors and did not see anything in his path, but as he turned slightly to allow room for the next HGV to access the grid, the rear of the loading shovel collided with the tailgate of Mr Hunter’s vehicle. This pushed it back towards the body of the trailer, pinning Mr Hunter between the tailgate and the trailer body.

An investigation into the incident by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although HGV drivers occasionally had to remove coal debris to ensure their tailgates closed properly, Scottish Coal provided no specific instructions on where they should safely stop. A designated area should have been provided for HGVs to stop while drivers secured their tailgates.

The court was told a risk assessment had been carried out and control measures introduced, including the use of a one-way system and reversing aids on the loading shovel. However, the assessment did not take into account the fact that visiting drivers were not prohibited from dismounting in the working area of the loading shovel, so there was a risk of collision between vehicles and pedestrians.

Immediately after the incident Scottish Coal Company Limited provided a safe pedestrian/vehicle segregation system, in which a designated area was set aside for drivers to safely alight their vehicles. The company also began a trial of a radar system to warn of obstacles.

Scottish Coal Company Limited, of Castlebridge Business Park, Gartlove, Alloa, Clackmannanshire, was fined a total of £6,000 after pleading guilty to two offences of breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Norman Buchanan, said:

"Mr Hunter suffered severe and life threatening injuries in an incident which could, and should have been avoided.

"Although risk assessments had been done, they had not addressed the risk to pedestrians in this area of the site. Yet on previous visits to other sites run by the company, Inspectors had reminded Scottish Coal of the importance of pedestrian/vehicle segregation.

"These acts of omission and commission amount to a serious departure from the duties of the site operator to do a comprehensive risk assessment for the depot."

Notes to editors

  1. Health and Safety Executive 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.
  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 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

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