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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors: Recycling, refuse collection, road traffic


Gas cylinder explosion death

In June 2009 Tony Johnson was working at Walter Heselwood Ltd’s site in Sheffield. A pressurised gas cylinder was put through a shearing machine. It exploded and a large section struck Mr Johnson on the head. He suffered fatal injuries. The company had no effective health and safety management system in place. It had failed to adequately assess the risks involved with processing different types of scrap material. It had also failed to put in place a range of measures to reduce risks. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented after the case that companies processing different materials should have good documented systems to ensure that materials such as pressurised cylinders are sorted and dealt with correctly.

Serious ash burns

In December 2009 an agency worker was cleaning ash from a filtration hopper at a Veolia Environmental Services site in Deptford. He prodded the ash with a rod in an attempt to clear a blockage. The ash fell onto him and he suffered 17 per cent burns to his body. He was hospitalised for a month. The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, was from Eastern Europe. He spoke little English and had not been properly instructed on working practices at the site. Veolia had not followed its own policies and procedures for the management of dangerous tasks. This put a vulnerable worker at risk by failing to provide him with adequate information or supervision.

Collapse of waste material: worker asphyxiated

In August 2014 Neville Watson, an employee of New Earth Solutions Group Ltd, was driving a loading shovel near a pile of waste material which was eight metres high. He had connected a shredder to the vehicle. The pile collapsed on him and he died from asphyxiation. The company had failed to undertake and prepare risk assessments or safe systems of work for the creation and management of stockpiles of waste. It had also failed to provide adequate training. An HSE inspector commented after the case that the company had failed to ensure that the deceased was supervised by a worker trained in the task he was carrying out. He had never previously carried out that task.

Excavator fall death

In July 2012 Lindsay Campbell was working in the bucket of an excavator at South Coast Skips Ltd’s site in Arundel. He was running an electric cable to power a waste screening machine. The bucket was lifted nine metres from the ground when the hydraulic pressure dropped, the bucket tipped forward and Campbell fell nine metres to the concrete floor. He suffered fatal injuries. An HSE inspector is reported to have made the following comments after the case: nobody should ever be lifted in the bucket of an excavator. Neither the bucket nor the excavator have the necessary safety devices nor fail safe devices which would prevent a person falling. The company did not have in place the training and supervision and especially the health and safety culture that ensures that nobody would consider undertaking such an obviously unsafe act such as this.

Dumper truck death

Ben Sewell, an employee of Dittisham Recycling Centre Ltd, was working at its site in Dittisham, South Devon. He was driving a dumper truck to move oversized material. He drove the truck along a dirt track down a steeply sided valley. He was not wearing a seat belt. He was found lying at the side of the track a few metres from the truck. He had suffered fatal injuries.The HSE discovered a series of safety failings with vehicles at the site. Tipping operations were unsafe and some of the roadways were inadequately protected.The deceased had not been adequately trained.

An HSE inspector commented that dumper trucks are inherently unstable and dangerous machines to operate. The company had not enforced the necessary rules to make sure that they were driven safely, including the full and proper use of seat lap belts.

Reversing vehicle death

In April 2016 a 76-year old female employee of Savanna Rags International Ltd, a clothing and textile recycling company, was walking from a weighbridge to a smoking shelter in the company’s yard during her afternoon break. She was struck by the rear of a reversing delivery vehicle and suffered fatal injuries. The company had failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks arising from vehicle movement. It was custom and practice for vehicles to reverse from the weighbridge. This was used by workers to access the company’s factory. There were no measures in place to adequately segregate pedestrians from moving vehicles and no safe system of work in place to ensure that vehicles could manoeuvre safely


Crushing death

In May 2014 a refuse collection vehicle was being refurbished at John Fowler and Son (Blacksmiths and Welders) Ltd’s site in Chorley. An operative using the controls within the cab of the vehicle closed the tailgate on a worker. He suffered fatal crushing injuries. The vehicle was supplied with controls for raising and lowering the tailgate which were designed so that a one-metre gap should be left when it was closed. The safety limit switch was jammed, so that the tailgate could be completely closed. There had been a poor system of work and an inadequate risk assessment. Veolia ES Sheffield Ltd had failed in its inspection regime, which would have identified and corrected the fault with the safety limit switch.


Collision with traffic signs: multiple injuries

Carillon AM Government Ltd was responsible for placing a series of road signs warning of the closure of a junction on the A12 near Saxmundham. The roadworks ahead signs should have been placed at intervals of 800, 400 and 200 metres ahead of the closure. In fact, the first indication was less than 200 metres before the road closure on the 50 mph stretch of the road. Glyn Turner was driving his motorcycle south along the road when he collided with the traffic signs. He suffered multiple injuries and is now paralysed. A spokesperson for the HSE is reported to have commented after the case that roadworks provide increased risk in what is already a very hazardous environment. Anyone doing work on our roads must take great care to warn road users in good time what to expect on the road ahead.

Death on pedestrian crossing

In May 2009 Mary Whiting, a passenger at Luton Airport, was crushed by a 26 tonne milk lorry as she used a pedestrian crossing between a terminal building and a passenger drop-off zone. The crossing, designed by C-T Aviation Solutions Ltd and situated on private land leased by the airport operators, was badly positioned and did not conform to regulations which apply to public roads. London Luton Airport Operations Limited was responsible for maintaining the roads, parking enforcement and signage at the airport. The company was served with an improvement notice after the death of Mrs Whiting, which required chamges to be made related to the safety of pedestrians and vehicles.

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