21 May 2013
Global defence company BAE Systems has been ordered to pay almost £350,000 in fines and costs after a worker died when he was crushed by the 145-tonnes weight of a metal press at its East Yorkshire plant.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), prosecuting, described the death of maintenance engineer Gary Whiting, 51, as an “entirely preventable tragedy” caused by the serious safety failings of BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd at its plant in Saltgrounds Road, Brough.
Hull Crown Court was told today (21 May) that a detailed investigation by HSE had exposed a series of flaws in safety practices during maintenance of the metal press, some of which had existed for many years.
Mr Whiting, formerly of Danby Close, Hull, died on 10 November 2008 while working as part of a four-man team doing routine servicing of a large metal press, a machine the size of a two-bed house. Two men were working at one end of the machine and two at the opposite end. The court was told neither pair could properly see the other.
While Mr Whiting, who had some 20 years’ experience, and his colleague were working with one of the two trays that fed into either end of the press, the other team was testing the tray bed and press frame at the other side.
Mr Whiting entered the machine to remove a piece of equipment he’d been using but at the same time, one of his colleagues at the far end started the full test cycle of the press frame. The 45-square-metre frame descended, trapping Mr Whiting. He died the same day in hospital from his crush injuries.
The court heard the type of press used, one of only a handful in the country and used to make Hawk jet trainer components, was serviced around four times a year and all the maintenance team were experienced workers.
Safety failings uncovered by HSE’s investigation included an absence of a suitable assessment of the risks associated with the test process and a lack of engineering control measures to prevent entry by workers to dangerous parts of the machine during testing or to stop the machine if anyone did enter a danger zone.
BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd of Farnborough Aerospace Centre, Farnborough, Hampshire, was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £97,153 costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act l974. The company had entered a guilty plea at a hearing in April last year.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Mark Welsh said:
"This was an entirely preventable tragedy that devastated Mr Whiting’s wife, Jackie, his two children and his wider family. They have shown admirable resilience during what has been a protracted and, at times painful, process.
"The dangers of maintenance work on these types of machines are well- known yet BAE Systems Ltd failed to identify those risks and its serious failings led to this tragedy.
"Although the press machine had been serviced regularly, it was done in the same unacceptable way and it is surprising there had not been an earlier incident.
"The guarding was inadequate and there were no key safety systems, no light guards or interlocks on the doors of the machine; nothing that would have either prevented entry to dangerous parts or stopped the machine if entry was made. In addition, there were no instructions, either written or verbal, given by BAE to workers about how to carry out the testing process safely.
"This incident should serve as a reminder to companies to ensure that dangerous parts of their machines are identified and measures taken to properly protect their workers. No company should put its employees at unnecessary risk."
In a statement released on behalf of Mr Whiting’s widow, Jackie, two children and brother, said:
"We are pleased that, more than four and a half years after Gary was killed, BAE Systems have been brought to justice.
"The complete absence of any safe system of work for the job Gary was performing beggars belief. There wasn’t a suitable risk assessment for the job he was doing. The machine he had been working in had been operated with a person inside it before and it is pure luck no one was killed in the machine before Gary.
"If BAE Systems had spent even a relatively small amount on safety features for the machine he was working in, Gary would have been alive today.
"We wish to place on record our thanks to Humberside Police who were involved in the initial investigation and the Health and Safety Executive who have worked tirelessly on this case.
"Gary shone as a light in all of our lives, and the lives of all those who knew him. Gary had the most infectious smile. He was always full of life, fun and energy, and was a devoted, loving husband, dad, granddad and brother. Gary is missed terribly. The loss to us is unbelievable, we struggle without him, but life goes on and he will never ever be forgotten."
Statistics from HSE for 2011/12 show that there were 31 deaths, more than 3,400 major injuries and some 14,000 minor injuries recorded within the manufacturing industries. For advice and information go to www.hse.gov.uk/manufacturing.
Notes to editors
- The 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. www.hse.gov.uk
- . Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees."