A lorry driver had to have parts of three fingers amputated after a south of England builders’ merchant chain failed to restrict forklift truck movements near pedestrians, a court heard recently.
David Cover and Son Limited, which operates the 15-strong ‘Covers’ chain of builders’ merchants across counties such as Hampshire and Sussex, was fined £120,000 following the injury to 37-year-old Robert Gassor in March 2016.
Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Gassor had delivered timber to the 16-acre Covers head office depot on Quarry Lane in Chicester, West Sussex and it had been unloaded by a forklift driven by a Covers employee. When the unloading finished Mr Gassor got out of his lorry cab and began to remove the steel metal posts which had acted as bearers for the timber on the truck’s rear bed. As he was stowing the bearers away under the lorry, the forklift operator drove back and handed him some paperwork. However, as the fork lift went to move away, the rear of the machine swung out, crushing Mr Gassor’s hand against a part-stowed bearer.
He was rushed to Chichester’s St Richard’s Hospital for emergency treatment but later had to have parts of three of his fingers amputated. He has since lost his job and can no longer work as a lorry driver.
An investigation by Chichester District Council’s environmental health department found that other visiting delivery drivers had reported similar incidents of Covers’ fork lift drivers driving up to hand them paperwork while they were standing in the yard.
Covers, which reported a turnover of £70m and profits after tax of £3.5m in 2015, admitted breaching section 3 of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay prosecution costs of more than £6,000.
Summing up, the judge said: “The accident was tragic for Mr Gassor. The pain must have been unbearable, and he is still suffering enduring pain. It is accepted that prior to the accident, the company had a good health and safety record. It would appear that the company have done everything that they can after the accident to improve safety. The company should be lauded for its response.”
Louise Rudziak, head of Housing and Environment Services at Chichester District Council, which took the prosecution, said: “Covers is a large and well respected local company and as the judge said, had a good health and safety record before this incident.
“However, this was a preventable accident and could have been avoided if fork lift truck movements near pedestrians had been restricted. Unfortunately this incident has led to life changing injuries for Mr Gassor, he has lost his job and is no longer able to work as a lorry driver.
“Covers have cooperated fully with the district council’s investigation and we acknowledge that lessons have been learned. The company has fully reviewed its safety procedures regarding fork lift truck movements and a wide range of improvements have been introduced. I would urge all companies in the district to review their procedures regarding the operation of forklift trucks.
“I hope this case sends a strong message that the council will not tolerate anybody being put at risk as a result of safety failings and will prosecute where appropriate.”
In a statement issued after the case, Rupert Green, chairman at Covers Timber & Builder Merchants, said: “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to Mr Gassor and his family for the injury he has suffered as a result of the incident.
“We confirm that Covers has pleaded guilty for breaching health and safety regulations at the Quarry Lane site on 18th March 2016 and is fully prepared to face the related consequences.
“Covers is committed to health and safety of all our staff, customers and other site visitors and we would like to reassure them that we maintain stringent and comprehensive health and safety policies and training schedules, which are regularly updated.
“Following the incident involving Mr Gassor we have carried out a thorough internal investigation and review of all our policies and procedures and implemented additional preventative measures at all our depots. These include ensuring visiting drivers are kept in a holding area at the depot whilst forklift trucks are in operation and not allowing them to breach this area until the forklift has been safely stopped.”
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