A Wednesbury-based heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer has been fined £150,000 after a worker was crushed to death while working in its warehouse.
Ronald Meese, 58, of Bilston, a production supervisor for Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd, had been stacking three-metre-long metal tubes in the warehouse in Darlaston Road, Wednesbury, when the incident happened on 27 July 2011.
With the aid of a forklift truck, he had created several stacks, but as he left his cab to set down timber pieces for the next bundle of tubes to rest on, one of the stacks, weighing a tonne, collapsed onto him. Paramedics were called but Mr Meese was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and today (7 March) prosecuted his employers Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd for safety failings at Wolverhampton Crown Court
The court heard another employee was unloading a container of the heater tubes, bound by bands into bundles of 19 and weighing around 200kg per bundle.
Mr Meese then used a forklift truck to move the bundles into stacks, five bundles high and with wooden separators, parallel to the internal wall of the “Goods In” area. He needed to leave the cab of the forklift truck at each trip to set down timber for the next bundle to rest on.
The HSE investigation found that there were no restraints nor any racking to support the tube stacks and the timber used to separate them were not a standard size. The source of the timber used for the task was not controlled by the company.
Mr Meese, who had been with the company for 34 years, was a trained forklift truck driver but neither he nor his colleagues had been given specific training or instruction on stacking the tube bundles. There was also no risk assessment in relation to the task.
Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd, of Kings Hill Business Park, Darlaston Road, Wednesbury, was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £33,000 costs, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Meese’s sister Valerie Whitehouse said:
“As a family, we are all devastated by the untimely, unnecessary and tragic loss of our much loved Ronnie. All of the family miss him terribly.
“Our grief is exacerbated by the fact that we would still have Ronnie if safety standards had been implemented and adhered to at Roberts-Gordon Europe Ltd.
“We cannot ever forgive them for allowing the circumstances to exist which resulted in the death of our much loved Ronnie and denying him and our family the happy future we were all looking forward to, but is no longer possible.”
HSE inspector Carol Southerd added:
“This was a tragic and needless death that could have easily been avoided if there had been an assessment of the risks relating to unloading the tubes and adequate safety measures taken.
“Falls of heavy materials from above head height is a common problem and often leads to death or serious injury. Unsupported stacking of heavy materials is an unacceptably high risk in areas where pedestrian access is allowed.
“Storage racking should be used. It is necessary to prevent stored material from falling unexpectedly. If this is not possible, safe areas, such as overhead protected walkways, must be provided to allow access.
“Had storage racks been in use in this instance, Mr Meese would still be alive today.”
For more information about safety issues when working in warehouse environments go to http://www.hse.gov.uk/logistics/warehousing.htm
Notes to editors
- Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”