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Colin Willoughby

Engineering firm fined after fatal accident involving forklifts

An engineering company specialising in the manufacture of containers and drums for the nuclear, aerospace and medical industries has been sentenced after a worker was fatally injured.

Preston Crown Court heard that on 21 May 2018, Whilst working at Graham Engineering’s site in  Whitehalls Industrial Estate, Colin Willoughby, (pictured), was lying on his back, underneath the middle section of a Hugh Smith 1,000 tonne capacity press which was raised by two forklift trucks. He was using a hand-held electric grinder to remove a weld from the base of a large metal piston. When the weld was removed, the internal ram fell through to the ground, crushing Mr Willoughby resulting in instant death.

Judge Parry said Graham Engineering acquired the Hugh Smith 1,000 press from a company in Ipswich in 2015. It was inspected by a man named Peter Egan, who concluded it was in poor condition. In order for the machinery to be put back into work, the piston would need to be removed and re-chromed, Mr Egan said.

The press remained at the site, but in 2017, Graham Engineering secured a large contract with Siemens to make components for MRI scanners. Mr Frazer thought the Hugh Smith press would be ideal for the job, however it would need to be moved and inspected.

Mr Egan recommended the firm used specialist lifting equipment as the press was extremely heavy and an unusual design. However on two separate occasions it was lifted onto sleepers using two fork-lift trucks - exceeding their safe working load limits by 4-5 tonnes.

On May 15 2018, the press was lifted and Mr Willoughby and Mr Egan slid underneath on their backs to take a look at the underside of the press. "At that stage no-one had any idea what was going on under the moving table, as it had never been inspected", Judge Parry said.

"The press was so heavy and was an unusual shape that it was described as a 'non-standard lift' and should have been subject to its own risk assessment", he added.

The two men inspected the 0.25 tonne cap which held the piston in place and discovered it was held in place by "poor and crude welding". No risk assessment had been put in place for either lifting the equipment or working underneath it, Judge Parry added.

On May 21 2018, Mr Frazer asked a number of employees to raise the press a little further from the ground using the same fork-lift truck technique and the cap underneath the lifting table had been removed. "It does not seem to have been appreciated that the cap was attached to the chrome piston", the judge said.

An HSE investigation found Graham Engineering Ltd failed to carry out a risk assessment and ensure a safe system of work on the Hugh Smith 1000 tonne capacity press.

Following a trial in front of a jury Graham Engineering Ltd of Whitehalls Industrial Estate, Nelson was found guilty of breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The Company was fined £500,000 and ordered to pays costs of £145,487.

Graham Engineering Ltd’s Manufacturing Director was acquitted of an associated charge under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing HSE principal inspector Steven Boyd said: “An unsafe system of work was adopted by Graham Engineering Ltd whilst undertaking hazardous work and the ensuing sequence of events led to the untimely death of Mr Willoughby. This tragic incident could have been avoided if the task had been adequately risk assessed and supervised to ensure safe procedures were followed”.