Forklift operator prosecuted after worker seriously injured
May 9th 2014. A forklift truck operator has been prosecuted for safety failings after a teenager was seriously injured by a falling heater unit weighing almost half-a-tonne during a dangerous lifting operation in Kent. The 18-year-old worker, who does not want to be named, required reconstructive surgery after sustaining multiple fractures of his right shoulder, left shin bone and left ankle in the incident at a manufacturing company in Maidstone on 25 June 2013.
He was crushed by a large unit weighing some 493kg after being asked to hold it in place on the forks of a truck driven by Stephen Bellingham.
Mr Bellingham, 49, from Larkfield, appeared in court on 8th may 2014 after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found he had taken it upon himself to move the heater in an inherently unsafe manner. Maidstone magistrates heard the unit had been removed from a factory building and placed next to a skip that he wanted to access, as his role included sorting and loading waste into skips using a forklift.
He managed to manoeuvre the unit onto the forks of the truck, but noted it was unstable and asked a passing colleague to help steady the load. The co-worker held it in place as best he could, but as it was lifted it slid off and fell, landing on top of him because he unable to move away.
HSE established that Mr Bellingham was acting entirely independently in opting to move the unit in this way. He was an experienced forklift operator, but he failed to assess the risks and possible consequences.
The court was told that had the lift been properly planned and managed, an alternative, safer method could have been found.
Stephen Bellingham, of Brooklands Road, Larkfield, was fined a nominal £270 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The low penalty reflects the fact he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct as a result of the incident, and is struggling financially because he has been unable to find alternative employment or claim any benefits since. Magistrates said a higher fine would not compensate for the suffering he has already endured because of a momentary lapse of judgment.
After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kevin Golding commented:
“This incident demonstrates all too clearly that a single poor decision – on this occasion asking an inexperienced colleague to stand in a dangerous position to steady a large, heavy and unstable load – can have devastating consequences. The young worker is fortunate to have regained full mobility, but he was unable to work for a considerable period. His ordeal should serve as a powerful reminder to all employees, particularly those in control of potentially dangerous machinery, to fully consider the consequences of their actions. Stephen Bellingham failed to do this. All lifting operations should be properly planned and assessed, and where a load appears to be unstable the operation must be stopped immediately to consider appropriate restraints or alternative methods.”