Leicestershire-based MAC Skip Hire failed to adequately segregate pedestrians and vehicles at the site where mother-of-one Beverley Upton was crushed between two vehicles, a court heard.
Leicester Magistrates’ Court heard how 45-year-old Beverley Upton’s vehicle was being loaded with waste at MAC Skip Hire’s site on Leicester Road in Hinckley, on 4 November 2015. A colleague was using a loading shovel to load the waste when a carpet became stuck over the top side of Upton’s lorry. The driver of the loading shovel attempted to cut the carpet using the bucket of his machine, but this proved unsuccessful, and Upton then got out of the cab of her truck and tried unsuccessfully to pull the carpet down.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, an inquest into Ms Upton’s death held at Loughborough Coroner’s Court in September 2016 heard the driver of the loading shovel saw Ms Upton move back towards her lorry cab and give a ‘thumbs-up’ signal. Presuming she was safely out of the way, he reversed away from the tipper truck and then drove back towards it with the bucket of the digger raised, to attempt to drag the carpet out using the digger’s bucket. However, during the manoeuvre, Ms Upton – who had an 18-year-old daughter – was trapped between the digger’s bucket and the side of the tipper truck, suffering fatal chest injuries.
Following the inquest, Robert Chapman, the assistant coroner for Rutland and North Leicestershire, used his powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to send a ‘Prevention of Future Deaths’ report to the managing director of MAC Skip Hire Limited, setting out the actions the company should take to prevent similar future fatalities. According to the coroner’s report, “it was apparent from the evidence given at the inquest” the driver of the loading shovel had not seen Ms Upton as he approached the side of her tipper truck and his vision had been restricted by the digger’s raised bucket. The coroner also concluded the digger operator’s ability to see Ms Upton “may have been reduced because she was not wearing high visibility clothing”.
The coroner added there was “no clear written guidance [at MAC Skip Hire] requiring drivers to stay in their cabs during loading, with sanctions if the rule was disobeyed… no enforcement of the industry rule that drivers should not get out of their cab [during loading]… no enforcement of the rule that workers should wear high visibility clothing”.
He also concluded “there was a lack of attention given to the drafting of health and safety documentation, with people preparing documentation who did not have appropriate training and experience in doing so”; and “there was insufficient training given to the staff of MAC in the nature of risk and the ways to reduce risk, as well as health and safety matters”.
The coroner said “a detailed investigation should be undertaken” by MAC Skips into the matters raised; and “urgent attention given to the assessment of risk”.
“Appropriate steps then need to be taken to deal with and correct the deficiencies in the approach to health and safety and the methods of working,” he concluded.
MAC Skip Hire Ltd was required to respond to the coroner’s report by November 2016.
During the recent HSE criminal prosecution at Leicester Magistrates’ Court on 30 January 2018, MAC Skip Hire Limited pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company, whose registered office address is in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £14,500.
The court heard that HSE’s investigation found the company had failed to implement and follow systems and site rules for loading operations at the Leicester Road site, resulting in a failure to suitably segregate pedestrians and vehicles. Following Ms Upton’s death, MAC Skips was served with an HSE improvement notice requiring it to organise the Leicester Road site so pedestrians and vehicles could circulate safely, which it complied with.
Speaking after the recent HSE prosecution, HSE inspector Mark Austin said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure to ensure that basic site controls and rules were being managed and enforced, such that pedestrians were not at risk from these large vehicles working in the area.”
Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, if, following an inquest, a coroner believes action should be taken to prevent future deaths, they “have a duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency”.
The recipient must respond to the coroner’s ‘concerns’ and ‘action [that] should be taken’, and the response “must contain details of action taken or proposed to be to be taken, setting out the timetable for action”. “Otherwise you [the recipient] must explain why no action is taken,” states the report template.
A number of coroners’ ‘reports to prevent future deaths’, including many following health and safety-related fatalities, are published on the website of the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.