The worker – who asked not to be named – suffered serious injuries after falling from height, in what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) described as “a dangerous lifting operation”.
After the accident at Mann Potatoes Partnership on November 5 2012, the worker broke a shoulder blade, fractured seven ribs, chipped two vertebrae, cracked his pelvic cradle and sustained a serious head injury. He spent nine days in hospital, after being admitted with critical injuries, and was unable to work for four months before recovering from his injuries.
Three people – Richard Mann, Alexis Mann and Christopher Mann – of Stangrove Hall Farm and Hill Farm in Alderton, Woodbridge, were prosecuted for their roles in the partnership after a HSE investigation.
Employed by the Mann family for over 50 years
Ipswich Magistrates’ Court was told the worker had been employed by the Mann family for over 50 years.
Immediately before the accident, he and a colleague had been asked to retrieve seed potatoes from a shed at Stangrove Hall Farm. The worker stood in a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, which was lifted about 6m to the top of a stack of boxes.
As he was being lowered to the ground, he shouted to his colleague, who was operating the forklift, to stop, as he released a curtain that protected the seeds as they dried.
When the descent began again, the box he was standing on became unbalanced and he fell 3m to the ground. His colleague, after backing his forklift away, found the injured worker lying unconscious on the ground.
The court heard that while a safe and suitable system had been devised and appropriate training provided, no checks were carried out to ensure it was followed.
Workers regularly bypassed the system
Workers regularly bypassed the system when equipment was unavailable, the HSE investigation revealed. For example, a cage had been provided for use with the forklift truck to lift workers up to stack or retrieve potato seed boxes. But when it was not immediately available, workers chose to use a potato box instead. “It was a poor substitute, because it could not be secured well enough to make it safe,” said the HSE.
HSE inspector John Claxton said after the hearing: “The injured worker could easily have been killed. Lifting someone as they stand in a box on the forks of a forklift should clearly have been recognised as an unsafe practice, and the onus was on the business partners to prohibit such a system of work.”
“This incident illustrates the need for duty holders to ensure work at height is carefully planned and managed at all times. That includes exercising vigilance to ensure the correct procedures are followed.”
Richard Mann, Alexis Mann and Christopher Mann were jointly fined a total of £3,000 and ordered to pay combined costs of £993 (including a victim surcharge) after individually pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE advice about working safely at heights is available here.