Paper firm fined for pallet fall failings

The UK division of a pan-European paper company has been fined for safety failings after a worker broke her leg in three places when poorly stacked pallets of paper collapsed.

The long-serving employee, who does not want to be identified, is still suffering pain and complications more than five years after the incident at Colombier (UK) Ltd in Sittingbourne on 27 May 2009.

The firm, part of the Holland-based Colombier Group, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to implement effective control measures in the stacking of heavy items.

Maidstone Magistrates Court heard (23 October) that the worker had helped to recover two pallet loads of paper that had collapsed and spilled from a stack at Colombier’s warehouse on the Eurolink Industrial Estate.

As she walked away further pallets slipped from the stack and struck her leg, causing the triple break.

HSE identified that although risks arising from falling stacks were identified by the company as a concern, the risk assessment did not address this particular work activity, so the actual process for controlling this risk was virtually non-existent. The system for stacking pallets in open areas of the warehouse did not follow HSE or industry guidance.

Magistrates were told there were two recorded incidents of stacks falling prior to the leg break incident, and that on a further three occasions the issue had been raised at management level. However, this information did not result in any practical change.

The company has since revised its management process.

Colombier (UK) Ltd, of the Eurolink Industrial Estate, Castle Road, Sittingbourne, was fined a total of £30,000 and ordered to pay £4,496 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Jan Combs commented:

“Risk assessments are not a paperwork exercise, and should be used as a management tool to identify risks and trigger the need for robust systems and procedures to eliminate them from the work process – so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so. If there is a change in process, a revised risk assessment should be implemented to follow suit.

“This case should serve to remind managers of the need to be aware of what is happening in their workplace, and to react immediately if any issues are identified. Concerns about the stacking process were well known at Colombier, and yet there was no management response to protect workers until it was too late, with an experienced employee sustaining a horrific leg injury that was entirely preventable.”

Notes to Editors:

1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.

2. Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states: “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of (a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work.”

3. Regulation 3(3)(b) states: “Any assessment such as is referred to in paragraph (1) or (2) shall be reviewed by the employer or self-employed person who made it if (b) there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates; and where as a result of any such review changes to an assessment are required, the employer or self-employed person concerned shall make them.”

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