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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The Little Book of Health and Safety Horrors: Schools, Sporting Estates and Transport


Repton School staircase injuries

In November 2013 Christine Bywater went to Repton School to watch her grandson play football. She left the school pavilion and stepped on a stone staircase. She fell from the staircase to the ground five metres below. She suffered multiple injuries. The stone staircase had a parapet running along its edge but no handrail. An HSE inspector made the following comments after the case:

This was a foreseeable incident which could easily have been avoided if reasonable measures, for example the fitting of guard rails, had been taken.

Published guidance exists regarding appropriate edge protection and dimensions for handrails which the school could have used to identify the appropriate standard.

Camping fire

In July 2011a group of girls from a school in East Ham went on a camping trip in West Sussex. One of the girls poured methylated spirits from a five-litre container onto a cooking stove when she thought that it was going out. This caused a flashover. The girl suffered severe burns to her hands, arms, face, neck and legs. The incident could have been avoided if basic precautions had been taken. Fuel should have been kept in the correct containers, safely stored and simple procedures followed for lighting the stove.

An HSE inspector commented after the case that councils, schools and voluntary groups which organise camping trips involving the use of highly flammable stove fuel must ensure that they implement effective precautions to prevent the ignition of fuel or vapour.

Toxic chemical injuries

In January 2012 Bret Thomas, a school pupil then aged 16, was on an extended work experience placement at Motorhouse 2000 Ltd’s site in Cannock. He was told to help an employee who was refilling a wheel stripping tank. The employee poured paint stripper from plastic containers into the tank and then passed the containers to Thomas who removed their labels and cut them in half. As he was cutting the last container with a Stanley knife, the container flicked up and the remains of the paint stripper splashed into his eyes and face. He was not wearing face or eye protection. He suffered burns to his face and eyes. His vision was seriously affected for a month and his face is scarred.

Four-year old pupil injured

In September 2016 a four-year old pupil at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Mossley was allowed to go to the girls’ toilet alone. She was heard screaming and was found with her fingers trapped in the hinges of the toilet door. Her right middle finger suffered a partial amputation. The finger guard on the door was missing. It had not been fitted when the toilets were converted five years before. There was no system in place for checking and monitoring door guards. Staff had also notified the former head teacher that the door was too heavy for young children to open.


Shotgun wound

A worker was acting as a flanker to funnel grouse towards a line of guns and to stop birds flying out of the side of the drive at the Danby Moor Settlement in North Yorkshire. He was shot when he was directly in front of the line of guns. He was struck by shotgun pellets. The optic nerve in his left eye was severed and he was permanently blinded.


Death from crushing between two buses

In October 2011 Lee Baker, an employee of West Midlands Travel, a subsidiary of the National Express Group, was working a night shift at the company’s depot in Walsall. He was attempting to move a double-decker bus to gain access to a pit by pushing it manually. Baker inadvertently left the gearbox of the vehicle in drive. When he left the vehicle, the bus crushed him against another vehicle. He suffered fatal crush injuries. No supervisor had been on duty at the time of the incident and the company had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment in relation to moving buses manually. Employees had not been trained in a safe system of work for moving buses not under their own power and had allowed the practice of workers pushing buses during night shifts. The company had a recovery agency to tow broken-down vehicles to the depot and inside it, but before the incident only supervisors knew how to call out the agency. The lack of a clear, safe system of work and a supervisor had led the deceased attempting to devise his own way of dealing with a problem which was preventing him from getting on with his work.

Crushing death

Ahmet Yakar, a Turkish national who did not speak English, made a delivery with his lorry at Morganite Electrical Carbon Ltd’s site in Swansea. He was supplied with a hand-operated pallet truck to move boxes of graphite parts to the back of his lorry. The boxes, which were stacked four high, became unstable. They toppled and crushed him. He suffered fatal injuries. The company did not have safe working procedures for receiving and unloading delivery vehicles. It did not carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for unloading at the site. The company did not have a set policy for dealing with drivers who did not speak English.

Fatal head injuries

In June 2012 Mark Wintersgill, a mechanic employed by PPR Transport Services, was attempting to jack up the axle of a double decker HGV trailer at the company’s site in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. He was using an air jack powered by a compressor. He was thought to have placed wooden blocks on top of the jack to increase its lifting height. The jack separated from the axle and struck him, causing fatal head injuries. He was attempting to jack the trailer on a set of concrete ramps. This meant that the trailer’s landing legs were below the level of the rear axles. This could have encouraged the unit to rock forward when the jacking began. Wintersgill should not have been under a vehicle being lifted until it was fully supported by appropriate chassis or axle stands.

Driver killed by runaway lorry

In December 2010 Russell Horner, an employee of Nightfreight (GB) Ltd, was working a nightshift at the company’s premises in Earls Barton, Northampton shire. He was coupling a tractor unit to a trailer when his vehicle moved off and crushed him against a stationary vehicle. He suffered fatal chest injuries. The HSE investigation discovered that drivers were coupling up vehicles without applying handbrakes or turning off vehicle engines. This dangerous practice was in breach of the company’s rules and was known to the company which had failed to effectively monitor employees and ensure that they followed the correct safe working procedure. There were no appropriate measures in place to prevent vehicles rolling away.

Driver impaled on steel tube

In August 2008 a horizontal swing barrier on Henry Williams Group Ltd’s Darlington site had been left open to allow Jason Ripley, a delivery driver, access to an unloading point. Ripley was delivering timber to the site. The barrier comprised a six meter long, 60mm diameter steel tube. As he drove towards the open barrier on his way through, the end of the bar was not visible. It broke through the windscreen of Ripley’s vehicle and impaled him through the chest. The tube fractured three ribs and caused damage to a lung. The company had failed to assess the risks involved with vehicles driving on and off the site and there was no means of securing the swing barrier in the open position.

Death from fume inhalation

In August 2011 Steven Conway, an employee of Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd, was responsible for general duties at its premises. These duties included collections and deliveries, removing and replacing tyres and moving allow wheels in and out of a chemical paint stripping tank. He was overcome by dichloromethane vapour while attempting to remove stripping debris from the tank. He died as a result of the inhalation.The company had provided Conway with no formal training in respect of the use of the tank and the stripping agent used by the company

Shovel loader death

In September 2006 Wayne Meylan was working at Need a Skip Ltd’s site in West Bromwich. He was crouching over a manhole, cleaning out a drain pump, when he was run over by a 13- tonne shovel loader. He suffered fatal injuries. The company had no transport plan in place to segregate people from vehicles. Its on-site health and safety training plan had not been followed. The company had previously been warned of the risks associated with workplace transport during a routine HSE inspection.

An HSE inspector is reported to have commented that the ad hoc approach by the company to its on-site activities, combined with heavy machinery moving around, meant that there was a high potential for an incident.

Apprentice trapped under bus

In September 2009 Ben Burgin, an apprentice then aged 17, was working with an experienced colleague at Yorkshire Traction Company’s Barnsley depot to repair a braking fault on a bus fitted with an air suspension system. They attempted to deal with the fault while the bus was on the garage floor rather than moving the vehicle over an inspection pit. Burgin was working underneath the bus near the front passenger wheel when the air suspension failed and the bus dropped onto him. He suffered severe facial injuries and had to be freed by another worker. The injuries required restorative plastic surgery to his nose and eye socket.

The investigating HSE inspector is reported to have commented that when employing young people, it was crucial that companies took account of their obvious lack of experience and lack of awareness of risk. The risks involved when working on buses with air suspension systems were well known in the motor industry. The latest guidance had warnings about never working beneath them unless they were properly supported The purpose of assessing risks which young people might encounter was not to produce paperwork but to protect them.

Crushing incident: severe brain damage

An employee of Signature Support London Luton Ltd was working at Luton Airport in April 2015. She was opening the doors of a hangar to move aircraft inside. She was trapped by the doors and suffered serious crushing injuries which resulted in severe brain damage. The employing company had failed to conduct adequate planning and had also failed to provide adequate training and written instructions,

Crushing death

In May 2013 John Wallace, an employee of Ontime Automotive Ltd, was jet washing a twin deck recovery vehicle at the company’s premises in Hayes, Middlesex. The upper deck collapsed and crushed him. He suffered fatal injuries. The vehicle had been poorly designed by J&J Conversions Ltd. The upper deck was only stable when it was secured by two powered locking pins. It was possible to lower the locking pins was incorrectly operated by hand. A correct design would have used a device which could not be operated by hand. Ontime had failed to control this unsafe practice. J&J Conversions had failed to remedy the issue after the upper deck had collapsed on a previous occasion.

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