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Construction firm fined over £100k after death

A 23-year-old man died from massive crush injuries when his head became trapped in the jaws of a grab machine being wrongly used to move a pallet of cement bags.

Steven Allen was part of a team working for Skipton-based construction company JN Bentley Ltd on a building project for Bradford Council in March 2007. Moving the 30 or so cement bags was to be the last job before the weekend when the incident happened.

Bradford Crown Court heard that workers used a block grab attached to an excavator to move the load. As they did, the bags fell two metres to the ground, but the pallet remained in the jaws of the block grab. The pallet pivoted and Steven Allen took hold of it to pull it free. As the pallet came away, the jaws dropped and clamped on Steven’s head, causing severe injuries. He died the following day.

After an investigation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) mounted the prosecution against Mr Allen’s employers. The court was told the HSE’s findings revealed that the grab was being used against manufacturer’s instructions and was not suitable for the job. Block grabs are designed to lift and move rectangular loads strapped together such as packs of bricks. The company had also failed to implement a safe system for lifting and transporting the bags of cement.

The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £106,250 and ordered to pay costs of £90,000.

HSE Principal Inspector, Dave Redman, said:

"It shouldn’t take a death to remind employers that failure to properly plan the work can have tragic consequences. An alternative way of lifting the pallet should have been used. Pallets are designed to be lifted using fork attachments which could have been fitted to the excavator.  This would have prevented the incident which led to Steven Allen’s death. If employers take their eye off the ball, it’s all too easy for otherwise safe and routine tasks to turn into unacceptable risks."

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