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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors: Lawnmowers, Lifts and Local authorities


Serious hand injury

In March 2014 an employee of New Charter Housing Trust was using a ride-on mower with a grass box attached. The chute to the grass box became blocked because the grass was long and wet. The worker reached into the chute to clear a blockage, His hand came into contact with a rotating metal fan. He suffered serious injuries. He had not received training on how to use the mower and did not know that the fan continued to rotate for 30 seconds after the machine’s engine was switched off.

Strimmer chain death

In February 2010 Tony Robinson, a self-employed contractor, was using a chainsaw to cut back overgrown vegetation at Ramsden Dock in Barrow. He had been hired to help clear undergrowth at the site during the construction of the new Waterfront business park. A chain attachment had been fitted to a strimmer so that it could be used for more heavy duty work. The chain, spinning at 300 mph, became detached and struck him on the back of the neck. He suffered fatal injuries. The HSE investigation of the incident found that the work had not been planned or carried out safely. ThreeShires Ltd had not properly considered the risks of using the attachment and had allowed the deceased to work close to where the strimmer was being operated.

The HSE issued a Safety Alert following the incident, which warned that there was a risk of death or serious injury from the use of the chain attachment. It served a prohibition notice on the sole importer of the attachments into the UK. The attachment is now banned throughout Europe.

Hand caught in blades

In August 2011 a maintenance worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, employed by Clear Channel UK Ltd, an outdoor advertising company, was working at a billboard site in Bath Road, Bristol. He tried to clear a blockage from a petrol-powered mower which he was operating. He thought that the mower had been turned off. As he tried to remove the blockage, the mower’s blade started to rotate. His thumb was almost severed and his fingers were severely injured. A 14 hour surgical procedure was needed to reattach his thumb and repair the damaged fingers. A safety feature which cuts out the engine of the mower and stops the blades rotating was not working properly. Clear Channel did not have an effective reporting and maintenance system for reporting faults in equipment. It had allowed a lawnmower which was not in good repair or efficient working order to be used by its employees.


Lift crushing death: stately home operator fined

Arthur Mellar, a butler, was killed in July 2014 when a luggage lift descended on him. The luggage lift was being used to lift guests’ bags from the ground to the second floor of the house of the Burghley House stately home in Stamford, operated by Burghley House Preservation Trust Ltd. A bag became jammed and the lift stopped. Mellar tried to free the bag when the lift descended and crushed him, causing fatal injuries.The lift had not been fitted with a slack rope detector. An assessment of the lift would have shown that the lift should have been thoroughly examined and tested. A competent lift engineer would have identified defects with the lift.


Lift shaft fall death

In January 2011 work was being carried out on the decommissioning of a lift shaft in a building being converted into flats in the Victoria area of London. The chain supporting the lift car broke while two men were working on it. The car fell six storeys to the bottom of the shaft. One worker was wearing a safety harness and was seriously injured. The other was not wearing a safety harness and was killed. Planning and management of the project was inadequate in relation to work at height and the lift decommissioning work.

Lift shaft fall death

Craig Jones, a resident of Marsden House in Bolton, was trapped in a lift at the premises and was unable to raise the alarm. He attempted to self-rescue by forcing the lift doors open and sliding out onto the floor below. He slipped and fell five storeys down the lift shaft, suffering fatal injuries.Warwick Estates Property Management Ltd, as management company of the building, had failed to take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent the deceased from self-rescuing. An HSE inspector commented after the case that the problems with the lift were well-known. Those who manage lifts have a responsibility to ensure that if people are trapped they have a way to raise the alarm and are not in a position to try to rescue themselves.

Lift shaft fall: serious injuries

In March 2012 Terry Moore, an experienced lift engineer, was working on a lift shaft at Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge. He was working on the top floor of a three-storey annex which was under construction. He fell into the shaft and fell nine metres to the foot of the shaft and suffered multiple fractures. The guard rails placed across the entrance to the shaft were 908 mm high. This did not meet the regulatory requirement that barriers must be at least 950mm above the edge from which a person is liable to fall. It could not be proved that the height discrepancy was a causative factor in the fall, but it was a serious safety failing.


Council road sweeper collision: death of motorcyclist

In September 2010 a council road sweeper lorry was cleaning a dual-lane slip road. Derek McCulloch, a motorcyclist, drove into the back of the sweeper. He suffered fatal injuries. The sweeper was travelling at 4 mph and there was a bend in the road which probably prevented the deceased from seeing the vehicle. The sweeper had flashing beacons and a large arrow on its back indicating that vehicles should pass. There should have been significantly more controls in place for sweeping a road of this type. There was no road-specific risk assessment in place but a generic one covering all road sweeping carried out by the council.

Dishwasher fluid

In May 2011 East Sussex County Council was fined following an incident in which a man died and five others were seriously injured when they drank dishwasher fluid.

A group of persons from the St Nicholas Centre in Lewes, a day care facility for adults with learning difficulties run by the council, were taken to Plumpton Agricultural College to use the sports facilities.

They were given a drink which had been prepared at the day centre and brought to the sports hall. This should have been orange squash but actually contained sodium hydroxide, a cleaning chemical.

The six who drank the fluid started vomiting blood and fitting. Colin Woods, who had Down’s Syndrome, died 17 months after drinking the chemical. Five others suffered burns to their mouths, throats and stomachs. Most had to undergo repeated surgery.

Three will never be able to swallow normally again.

East Sussex County Council had failed to ensure that the fluid was safely stored away. It was left on the side in an unlocked kitchen. The chemical was marked as corrosive but it was similar in appearance to that of orange squash.

Surviving service users at the day centre were too traumatised by the incident to be interviewed about who had mixed the drink.

A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have made the following comments:

  • This was one of the worst incidents which he had investigated in all his time as a health and safety inspector.

  • It was impossible to adequately imagine the suffering and terror that the victims must have felt as the tragedy unfolded.

  • The terrible thing was that the incident and its horrific consequences could so easily have been prevented by simply locking away the container of sodium hydroxide.

  • Mr Woods had died a slow, painful and unnecessary death and others had suffered terrible and preventable injuries, some painful and permanent, because the council had failed in its responsibility to take proper care of them. It was imperative that authorities properly protected vulnerable people in their care.

Mobility scooter death from reversing lorry

In July 2008 Derrick Baines, aged 76, was returning to his home in Langold, Nottinghamshire, on his mobility scooter when he was struck by a reversing bin lorry. He suffered fatal multiple injuries. The lorry was on a missed bin collection. It had a one-man crew. The fatal incident could have been prevented if there had been a reversing assistant at the back of the vehicle. The driver became aware that something was wrong when he noticed shopping spilled in the road behind his vehicle.

An HSE inspector commented after the case that if the local authority had staffed the vehicle appropriately, Baines would probably still be alive today. Very large vehicles such as the one involved in the incident have a number of blind spots. It was impractical to expect a lone driver to reverse safely without the aid of a colleague walking behind to check that the route was clear. These vehicles are fitted with flashing lights and a reversing warning system, but the council needed to take into consideration that the system was not adequate. Another worker should have been present and could have prevented this needless loss of life.

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