Cheshire firm Joseph Heler Ltd was prosecuted last week (January 23) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), after its investigation revealed the accident was caused by an unsafe loading operation at its plant on Crewe Road in Hatherton, near Nantwich.
Chester Magistrates’ Court was told the injured worker, a 53-year-old from Crewe, had been helping to load cheese onto a lorry for delivery to a customer on July 4 2012.
The worker – who has asked to remain anonymous – was being lifted up to the lorry, with one foot on each prong on the forklift. But he fell to the ground a metre below when the forks struck the back of the vehicle, jolting the forklift. The man suffered cuts to his left leg and multiple fractures to his ankle.
The practice being illegal
The HSE investigation revealed it had become common practice for workers to be lifted on forklift prongs – despite the practice being illegal.
Joseph Heler Ltd had failed to identify the practice and no risk assessment had been carried out for the work. Also, workers had no other method of reaching inside lorries.
The firm has since changed the way it prepares deliveries and provided steps to enable workers to reach the back of the vehicles.
Jane Carroll, HSE inspector, warned after the hearing the worker’s injuries could have proved life-threatening, had he struck his head when he fell.
“His employer regularly allowed workers to stand on the forks on forklift trucks, despite this being illegal and posing a clear risk,” said Carroll. “Joseph Heler failed to give its employees any guidance on how they should access and load the wagon, and failed to put systems in place to make sure the risk of injury was minimised.
“The changes the company has made following the incident show it would have been possible for the work to be carried out safely.”
Joseph Heler Ltd was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £709.15 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
This was the third successful prosecution this month for safety failings involving forklift trucks.
Last week, a Suffolk potato business was handed a £4,000 fine after a 67-year old employee – who had worked for the company for more than 50 years – fell from a forklift truck.
The worker suffered serious injuries after falling 3m from a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, in what the HSE described as “a dangerous lifting operation”.
Earlier this month, a vegetable business was fined £200,000 after one of its managers was struck and killed by a forklift truck.
HSE guidance about working safely at height is available here.