A REPUTABLE family-run business has been slapped with a hefty fine after health and safety failures led to an accident at work in which one of its employees died later in hospital.
James Dunkerley Steels, of Higginshaw, was fined £146,500, after pleading guilty at Tameside Magistrates’ Court for failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of an employee during an unsafe and unplanned lift of steel beams.
The court heard how an investigation had been launched after 35-year-old Wayne Mallinson died during an operation following the accident at the Shaw Road steel works in July, 2015.
Mr Mallinson’s arm was cut deeply while unloading steel beams from the back of a truck on the morning of July 6, 2015. One fell and trapped Mr Mallinson’s arm before colleagues lifted it off. The injury Mr Mallinson sustained did not result in any fractures, but a layer of skin had come off.
Mr Mallinson, from Mirfield, West Yorkshire, was taken to the Royal Oldham Hospital. While there, his work colleagues were at his bedside and expected him to make a full recovery.
When he went for a routine operation in the afternoon, however, he suffered heart problems and died while being anaesthetised.
The incident was passed to the coroner, who opened an inquest. It was then passed to Greater Manchester Police’s major incident team and the Health and Safety Executive.
The court heard how the unloading of the steel beams from the flat pack, from Tata Steel, was a three-man operation. Mr Mallinson was working as a slinger/signaller and had been at the company for 14 years after serving in the Army. As it was a three-man operation two other employees - James Dunkerley and Simon Bland - were also assisting in the unloading.
Mr Bland used a telehandler - similar to a forklift - to lift the steel beams but both he and Mr Dunkerley were unaware that Mr Mallinson was on the back of the wagon. They presumed he was a safe distance away. Two steel beams fell on Mr Mallinson, who was attaching chain slings to steel bundles ready for unloading.
On September 18, an improvements notice was served by Oldham Council to the company, followed by a visit by the police, the council and the Health and Safety Executive on September 29.
It was also found that Mr Bland had not received formal slinger training. The use of the telehandler was deemed unsuitable for the unloading of the beams.
The company has since spent about £11,000 in order to comply with the requirements of the improvement notice.
There were record of accidents in 2004, 2005 and 2015 but no previous convictions in relation to health and safety matters.
Prosecuting, Ruth Crimmins, said: “This was not properly planned. It is accepted by the police that the injuries were unlikely to have made a significant, direct contribution to Mr Mallinson’s death. Nonetheless, it was related and an investigation took place.
“The company co-operated fully. There were a number of issues. There were risk assessments in place but they were not being followed at the time.
“There were no risk assessments for taking non-routine lifts in place. The employees had not received adequate training. They were simply shown by other employees on site.
“Since the accident, the company has arranged for staff to attend training courses for unplanned routine lifts which are inherently unsafe.”
Defending the company, Lisa Roberts QC, said the ordeal had been difficult for them too as they were still grieving the loss of an employee.
Mrs Roberts claimed the steel beams were not stacked properly by Tata, which had made the unloading of the delivery to be difficult.
But she went on to say that the company accepted that the employees should not have tried to unload the delivery but instead send it back to be packed properly and safely.
Darren Hartley, from Tata, said to the inspectors that the bundle of steel was inspected prior to loading and was stacked as per company guidelines.
Mrs Roberts explained that what was usually a routine procedure had become non-routine because of the way the steel was stacked.
She said: “Tata of course bears no responsibility but I would argue that what happened on their premises played a part. This is not any way to deflect culpability or responsibility, far from it.
“The load shouldn’t have left Tata in that state but Dunkerley shouldn’t have accepted it. It is a miracle that the load arrived without serious impact or accidents en route. It was not bound by steel tapes. They should have refused to unload it and sent it back.”
Mrs Roberts said any inadequate risk assessments had been put right and any criticism made by the Council had been put right.
The turnover of the company is £3.2 millions, with a profit of £50,000. Mrs Roberts said any fines would be paid for by directors and it would not affect employee wages nor the bonuses they receive.
She added: “This wasn’t a huge corporate. This was a family business and they felt the loss of Mr Mallinson very deeply, and continue to do so.”
Sentencing the company, district judge Nicholas Sandler said he gave full credit to the company for the guilty plea and while he accepted their clean record he said it was an accident waiting to happen, due to the inadequate risk assessments.
He said: “This wasn’t a unique set of circumstances. This was a long-term problem. There was an endemic problem there.
“Because of the lack of training, because of the inadequate risk assessments, what took place was intrinsically unsafe. There were no proper safety measures in place to protect the employee from what went on.What took place was an accident waiting to happen.
“The material handler wasn’t an appropriate kit for the job. It caused the pile of steel to collapse on Mr Mallinson. He suffered serious but not in itself life threatening injuries.
“I wholly accept that had the company not caused the accident in the first place he wouldn’t have been in hospital. There are no previous convictions.
“The company has a good health and safety record. In fact, an exemplary record with no previous involvement to its credit, considering the hazardous industry.”
As well as a fine of £146,500, James Dunkerley Steels was ordered to pay costs of £11,600 and a victim surcharge of £120.”
John Dunkerley, one of the company directors, said: “The tragic death of Wayne has shocked us. Wayne was a colleague but also a friend to everyone at the company.
“The company has entered a guilty plea today to the health and safety offence that led to an accident at our premises. We have accepted complete responsibility in that regard, the court’s judgement today reflecting any failures.
“It has been confirmed that the injuries Wayne sustained at the company did not, however, cause his death, which resulted from a rare set of events at Royal Oldham Hospital.
“Our thoughts continue to be with Wayne’s family and friends throughout this difficult time.”