Loading platform was ‘disaster waiting to happen’ before fall fatality

DIY wholesaler Decco has been fined £2.2m over the death of an agency worker who fell 2.5 m from an unguarded platform at a warehouse in Chesham, Buckinghamshire.

The two inward-opening spring-loaded gates on the platform were badly worn

Nick Phillips, senior environmental health officer at Chiltern District Council, which brought the prosecution, told IOSH Magazine that the victim had worked for the company for around six months but had been moved to the goods- in department just one week before the accident. 

rsz_deccoWilliam Richardson was unloading a delivery from a first-floor loading platform at the warehouses on 25 November 2014. One of the pallets exceeded the 1.8 m height restriction on the doorway that led into the warehouse and Richardson was removing boxes from the top of the pallet so the load could be moved inside.

As he reached up, he slipped and fell off the edge of the platform. He was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital with severe head and leg injuries, but died two weeks later. 

The local authority launched an investigation and found there were two inward-opening spring-loaded gates on the platform but they were badly worn. The platform was taken out of service and an improvement notice was issued to Decco. 

Phillips said: “The platform didn’t have suitable guarding to prevent people who were working up there falling off. The gates were just left open and provided no protection. 

“The company’s risk assessment was insufficient. It hadn’t looked at how [staff] were working up on that platform and didn’t realise that people had to take items off the top of the pallets; it assumed the pallets were pulled straight through into the warehouse.”      

The company was fined at Aylesbury Crown Court on 9 September after it admitted breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at a hearing at High Wycombe Magistrates’ Crown Court in March. 

According to Bucks Free Press, Judge Francis Sheridan said in court: “The whole of the edge was unguarded which was simply disgraceful. This was an obvious danger. One just needs a modicum of common sense to realise this system was wholly inadequate and a disaster waiting to happen. Those responsible for this company should hang their heads in shame at the failings that led to a man’s death.” 

The judge decided the company’s culpability was high and said the offence was harm category one. Decco was classified as a large organisation; its turnover last year was £100m. He took into account this was Decco’s first safety offence but also that the breach had been going on for many years. 

The starting point of the fine was £3.3m, reduced by a third for the company’s early guilty plea. It must also pay around £21,000 in costs.

Following the accident, Decco replaced the ineffective spring gates with a swing-over pallet gate, re-wrote its risk assessment and improved staff training.