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Dock company in court after worker’s life-changing injuries

Date:
9 May 2014

An Essex dock company has been fined for safety failings after a dock worker suffered severe leg injuries when an operation to unload a cargo container went wrong.

Andrew Gotts, 26, of Felixstowe, Suffolk, suffered multiple fractures and destruction of soft tissue on his lower right leg when it was trapped and crushed as a jammed container suddenly freed itself.

The agency dock worker has needed extensive reconstruction surgery and it is not yet known when or if he will be fit for work.

The incident, on 4 October 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Harwich Dock Company for serious safety breaches.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard today (9 May) that Mr Gotts was helping to unload containers from a ship using the ship’s crane and chains on one of the dock company’s two berths within the Port of Harwich.

He had been standing on an access platform on the deck of the ship while colleagues tried to free a jammed container during a crane manoeuvre. The container moved suddenly towards him, trapping him against the handrail of the platform and crushing his leg.

HSE found that the company did not have a safe procedure in place for freeing jammed containers. There was no clear instruction as to who should be in charge of the operation, ensuring the area was kept clear and controlling the crane movement. As a result, nobody asked Mr Gotts to leave the danger zone as the container was freed.

HSE also found workers were being exposed to the risk of falls during the off-loading operations as dock workers would walk across the top of containers to attach chains, with nothing to prevent falls. Although Harwich Dock Company had a policy that harnesses should be worn, this was not enforced by supervisors present.

Harwich Dock Company Ltd, of Kings Quay Street, Harwich, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £14,761 in costs.

During sentencing, HHJ Goldstaub QC said:

“It is essential in any lifting operation that there is a clear chain of command and it is normal to have a designated banksman, slingers and crane driver. Provided all know their function, lifts can be managed safely. If not, dangers arise as demonstrated here.”

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Toni Drury said:

“This incident was entirely preventable. Mr Gotts was injured by a jammed container when it suddenly freed and he sustained horrific and life-changing injuries.

“The risk of containers jamming is well-known in the port industry. There should have been a clear procedure known to the workers, including keeping people clear of the jammed container and having one individual designated to manage operations.

“If Harwich Dock company had properly assessed and managed the risks to all dock workers during the unloading of containers, and particularly to agency workers who are less familiar with tasks and settings, an alternative method of working would have been used and risks reduced. As it was, they were exposed to significant dangers exacerbated by failings in the company’s supervision.”

For more information about working safely in ports and docks, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/ports

Notes to editors

  1. 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
  2. Section 3(1) 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.”
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

 

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