Company fined £75,000 following fatal coupling incident

A dairy farm has been ordered to pay over £110,000 in fines and costs after a worker was crushed by a truck during a coupling operation on a slope.

Shunter driver Paul Davidson was fatally injured when the vehicle rolled downhill and struck him at J&B Woodcock & Sons’ Chorley, Lancashire base in March 2012.

He had reversed a tractor unit in preparation to couple it to a parked trailer of empty milk containers, which had been parked on a slope leading towards the dairy loading bay.

Once he coupled the trailer and tractor unit together, he manually depressed the shunt valve on the nearside of the trailer. He then released its parking brake and the combination began to roll.

The truck jack-knifed and crashed into another trailer parked in the loading bay. Davidson was struck and later died on the way to hospital as a result of his injuries.

On 19 November, Liverpool Crown Court was told that J&B Woodcock & Sons had not carried out a sufficient risk assessment for the coupling and uncoupling of trailers, which would have identified the risks associated with carrying out such operations on a slope.

The partnership, of Yew Tree House Farm, Coppull Hall Lane, Chorley, pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The business, which has an O-licence authorising 44 vehicles and 16 trailers across two sites in Chorley and Skelmersdale, was fined £75,000 and must pay £35,424 in costs.

HSE inspector Phil Redman said after the hearing: “Hauliers and site operators should ensure areas where coupling and uncoupling take place are well lit, firm and level.  

“It is foreseeable that a shunter driver may inadvertently leave the tractor unit parking brake off, and unfortunately there have been many instances of tractor and semi-trailer combinations running away during coupling and uncoupling, when this has occurred the consequences have sometimes been tragic.”

Injuries in transport and storage higher than in any other sector

There is no shortage in the amount of health and safety-related legislation road transport operators have to abide by, designed to keep both employees and the general public safe while carrying out what can potentially be a dangerous job.

So it came as a surprise to The Transport Law Blog that the rate of reported injuries in the transport and storage sector in the last three years was significantly higher than the average rate across all industries.

According to the HSE, an annual average of 2,600 injuries per 100,000 workers were reported between 2012 and 2015 by businesses in the transport and storage industry.

Each year 3% of the workforce sustains a work-related injury of some sort with slips, trips and falls, and lifting and handling being the two main causes of injury, each accounting for 28% of the number of incidents reported.

Falls from height account for around 10% of injuries in the sector every year. Recent cases have included workers falling from fragile roofs or from the top of trailers.

Some 11% of injuries involve being struck by an object, including vehicles. Earlier this year a judge said the accident rate within the waste and recycling sector in particular remained one of the highest in any industry, with collisions between vehicles and pedestrians a particular issue.

Not only can injuries, depending on their severity, result in fines or prosecutions bought against a company if the employer is found at fault, they can also result in loss of business. The HSE estimates that 300,000 working days in the transport industry are lost every year as a result of an employee being injured, so there is an incentive to make sure that safety procedures at your operation are tip-top.

Ill health is also an issue in the transport sector, resulting in employees taking an average of 1.1 million days out of work every year. An annual average of 3,350 out of every 100,000 workers suffered from work-related illness over the last three-year period.

Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (Riddor), records of accidents, dangerous occurrences and specified diseases must be kept by responsible persons for at least three years.