Some of the rag bales in WE Rawson's warehouse
Forklift truck operator James Welka, 61, died in hospital just hours after the incident at WE Rawson Ltd's warehouse in Castle Bank Mills, Wakefield, on 22 February 2010.
Mr Welka, who had been with the firm for five years, was struck by the top two bales of rags, each weighing more than 300kg, when a column of bales collapsed.
WE Rawson Ltd was sentenced for a serious breach of safety legislation at Leeds Crown Court in proceedings brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
The court was told that Mr Welka, of Walker Avenue, Wakefield, was an experienced forklift operator who worked in the firm's rag bale warehouse.
On the day of the incident, he was standing next to a five-metre high column of bales while making a phone call to a supervisor. A colleague was operating a forklift nearby in the process of moving some of the bales. The column suddenly toppled toward his colleague's truck but the top two bales fell in the opposite direction and struck Mr Welka, who had been out of sight behind the column.
He was taken to Pinderfields Hospital but was pronounced dead the same day.
HSE found that WE Rawson Ltd had stacked the rag bales unsafely, using vertical columns, which were inherently unstable, rather than tiered stacking. It had failed to consider the risks posed by the unstable columns to employees walking around the warehouse, and failed to put effective measures in place to control the pedestrian activities around the warehouse.
WE Rawson Ltd, of Portobello Road, Wakefield, was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £15,839 for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the incident, HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher said: "This tragic incident could have been avoided had WE Rawson taken its duty of care toward its employees sufficiently seriously. The sad consequence of the company's failures is an unnecessary loss of life and the devastating impact this has had on Mr Welka's partner, family and friends.
"The company was aware that the rag bales were unstable as there was a history of them collapsing. There were simple and straightforward steps that could have been taken to ensure that the stability of the bales did not present a risk to pedestrian workers in the warehouse area. Those measures were not taken.
"After Mr Welka's death, the company adopted different stacking practices improving the stability of the stacks, reduced the need for pedestrians in the warehouse and improved the control of pedestrians in the warehouse. That is to be welcomed and expected, but cannot compensate for the loss of a life."
HSE statistics for 2011/12 (provisional) show there were 31 deaths across all manufacturing industries and around 17,500 injuries.
HSE is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness.We are an independent regulator and act in the public interest to reduce work-related death and serious injury across Great Britain’s workplaces.
Health and Safety Executive
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