Essex salad grower Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for safety failings, after Zofia Jurek, aged 63, suffered serious injuries when she jumped from the runaway platform at its nurseries in Nazeing.
Jurek jumped from a height of about 1.4m as the platform ran down a ramp and towards a greenhouse door on July 25 last year. Landing on a concrete floor, Jurek fractured her skull, suffered a brain haemorrhage, and broke a heel.
The head injury affected her hearing, balance, and ability to read. The back of her skull is very sensitive both to touch and to heat and she has not fully regained her sense of smell and taste. Jurek required metal plates in her heel and spent several months on crutches. She is still unable to stand for long and has been unable to return to work.
Better guard rails
Chelmsford Crown Court heard that the firm failed to adequately identify the risk posed by the sloping floor to workers using the mobile platforms, known as electric trolleys. An HSE investigation revealed the platforms needed both repairs and better guard rails to prevent falls.
The court was told workers used the platforms to pick bell peppers at heights of up to 3m. Designed to run on level ground, the electric trolleys were not fitted with brakes. When the accident happened, Jurek was picking bell peppers close to the top of a ramp which led into a greenhouse.
When 1m away from the slope, she manoeuvred the electric trolley across the aisle to the opposite row of peppers and away from the ramp. But after pressing the accelerator, the trolley moved down the ramp. According to the HSE report: “She jumped off the front of the trolley and tried to stop it hitting the greenhouse door, but in doing so she was knocked unconscious.”
After the accident, bollards were fitted at the top of the ramp which would have prevented the accident.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Sue Matthews said work at any height was inherently risky and should be properly planned, controlled and supervised. “Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd failed to take inexpensive and simple precautions which would have prevented Ms Jurek’s injuries,” said Matthews. “The risk to workers using trolleys near to the ramp was known to the company but no action was taken to provide adequate protection.”
Employers must always assess the risks to employees and ensure their safety, she added. “This worker sustained a serious head injury and is still unable to return to work as a direct result of Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd’s failure to manage the risks of this operation.”
Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd of Paynes Lane, Nazeing, Essex, was fined £22,000 and ordered to pay £8,830 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Guidance about working safely with mobile elevated platforms is available here.