Working at height – airport firm’s £500,000 fine

A company has been fined after previously being served with improvement notices after multiple accidents involving transport and work at height. What could it have done to avoid this situation?

What happened?

In June 2015 employees of Swissport GB Ltd (S) were tasked with unloading baggage from a commercial aircraft. The bags were stacked on to the back of a flatbed truck. Once they had finished unloading, the team leader told the truck driver to take the load to the terminal building.

As the driver prepared to depart he checked his mirrors but due to his view being obstructed, he was unable to see the team leader who was still standing on the back of the truck. When the vehicle moved forward the worker fell to the ground causing spinal injuries which left him unable to work for eight weeks.

Investigation

Following the incident, an investigation carried out by the HSE discovered that the workers had not followed company procedure. They had obstructed the driver’s view by stacking the luggage above a marked height restriction and this was a direct cause of the accident. To comply with safety procedures a second vehicle would have been required.

In both 2007 and 2010 the HSE had served S with two improvement notices following a couple of incidents which had also involved falls from flatbed trucks.

Further injury

In September 2015, a night worker was undergoing training on unloading containers from a cargo aircraft. While climbing an access ladder he slipped on the wet metal rungs and fell approximately two metres, suffering an injury to his right foot.

S had not properly planned the work at height and the worker had not used the correct access route.

Further investigation discovered this method of work was routinely carried out and the ladder could be extended to a height of nine metres. Therefore, the injury had the potential to be much worse.

In court

S pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for the worker falling from the flatbed truck and the Work at Height Regulations 2005 for the incident involving the ladder. The total fine was £502,000.

On time

For both accidents the HSE felt that safety procedures were ignored due to time pressures.

Tip 1. In an environment where there are high penalties for missed deadlines, staff will always seek shortcuts. If you’re in this situation, put additional investment into practical safety solutions which workers cannot, or are less tempted to, circumvent.

Tip 2. Use supervision to enforce safety procedures which may be ignored.

Tip 3. Training in your rules and procedures should not only target staff but also managers and supervisors. They must be made aware of the potential consequences of non-compliance.

Summary

Accidents involving falls from trucks and ladders occurred when safety procedures were not followed. If your workers are pressured to meet deadlines, anticipate that they will look for shortcuts. In these environments find control measures which cannot be side-stepped and use a high level of supervision to enforce rules.