The Nottinghamshire cold storage firm, Dawson Rental Portable Cold Storage Ltd, which handles food products, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Nottingham Crown Court heard last week (February 13) that in one accident, an agency worker was struck and trapped by part of a falling portable cold storage unit.
Kevin Rodgers, aged 37, from Mansfield, was trapped under the L-shaped section of cold store in the accident on October 26 2010.
The worker – who was dismantling smaller sections of the equipment – broke several bones in his foot. He also suffered an epileptic seizure, which prevented him working for some time.
Failed to properly assess the risks
An HSE investigation revealed the firm failed to properly assess the risks involved in dismantling the equipment and concluded staff training and supervision were inadequate. There was also no safe system of work in place.
Another investigation by the organisation was undertaken after several employees complained of suffering from various stages of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
One worker, Paul Straw, aged 47, from Mansfield Woodhouse, suffered such severe injury he was forced to leave his job at the firm.
Workers used power tools for significant periods of time, with very limited or no monitoring by the firm. Since job rotation and regular health checks were rare, symptoms of HAVS were not identified at an early stage.
Heath checks were rare
The court heard some limited assessment had been conducted and the risk of HAVS was raised. But the firm failed to take remedial action and the problem was allowed to continue for several years.
HSE inspector Stuart Pilkington said after the hearing: “The agency worker was lucky not to suffer far more serious injuries and the incident shows the importance of training agency workers and ensuring they are properly supervised.
“HAVS is preventable, but once the damage is done it is permanent, serious and disabling. Dawson Rental failed to protect its workers and several have suffered long-term damage as a result.”
The most effective way of controlling exposure is to look for new or alternative work methods which eliminate or reduce exposure to vibration, he added. “Health surveillance is vital to detect and respond to early signs of damage.”
The injured worker Paul Straw said he worked for the firm for about 18 years – “it’s all I knew”.
Straw said he heard by letter that he had developed HAVS but did not understand the implications at the time.
“Hand-arm vibration syndrome has made it very difficult for me to find employment and I really miss working. The thought of re-training for a new job at my time of life is very hard,” said Straw.
Dawson Rental Portable Cold Storage pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc act 1974 and two breaches of Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The firm was fined £40,000 and was told to pay £20,000 costs.
HSE advice about HAVS is available here.