Tata Steel UK has been fined £1.4m for the death of a 26-year-old maintenance electrician, who was fatally crushed after an overhead crane trapped him in the cage he was working in.
Kingston Upon Hull Crown Court heard how Thomas Standerline, an employee with Tata, had been working at the firm’s Scunthorpe steel plant in the Slab Yard on the day of the incident, 23 April 2010.
Two cranes in the yard were used to transport large items of hot metal for cooling. The cranes ran off electrical conductor rails, known as ‘bus bars’, and it was Mr Standerline’s job to check and repair them.
Kirsty Storer, the principal HSE inspector on the case told Safety Management: “The collector cage on both cranes was there to allow maintenance people to go up and inspect the shoes (collectors) that go onto the electrical bus bars and check their condition.”
Mr Standerline climbed into the cage to check the power supply for the bottom ‘semi goliath’ crane.
“The bottom crane was isolated, but the top crane was still operating and moving up and down – collecting slabs and doing work.
“When Mr Standerline climbed into the cage there was only a 10cm gap between the top of the cage he was in and the bottom of the cage above. The basket only came up to his waist when he stood up. So the top crane ran over him and it crushed him.”
The judgment read to court at sentencing on 2 February shows that Tata’s chief failure was in not isolating the overhead crane (named No 1 Crane).
Storer explained that the crane drivers were not employees with Tata, as they worked for contractor company Harsco Metals Group.
But Tata was in charge of the crane maintenance work and therefore “had sole responsibility” for the incident. “They failed to implement their procedures.”
“Tata didn’t liaise with the drivers to tell they needed to stop operating the crane. Had they told them they would have stopped operating it,” she said.
“The gate at the bottom of the ladder to the collector cage was also open,” she said, meaning it did not provide an effective barrier to access.
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC added in his sentencing remarks that there had been two previous incidents in the Slab Yard in 2008 and 2010. “They should, taken together, have alerted the company to serious safety deficiencies in that location.”
Specialist inspectors had also visited only months before the incident and told Tata there was a need for effective isolation and a better Permit to Work system, but their advice was ignored.
In summing up, Judge Richardson referred to Tata’s recent poor safety performance for major incidents, including the £1.5m fine in 2017 after two workers lost their hands in two separate guarding incidents.
“The list of previous convictions is not one of which any company, still less this defendant company, should be proud. It is shameful. I believe the defendant company now appreciates it is shameful for it to have conducted itself as it did.”
“The defendant has forfeited what would have been good mitigation of an exemplary or near exemplary record.”
A member of Mr Standerline’s family spoke after the hearing. They said: "There’s not a day goes by when we don’t think about him. We miss him always, especially on family occasions when he should be with us. He was well loved by everyone who knew him, and had lots of friends. Every day we think about what might have been if he had still been here.”
Tata Steel UK Limited of Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 and Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and fined £1.4 million with costs of £140,000.
Harsco Metals Group, operator of the crane that killed Thomas, was acquitted of safety offences at trial in 2017.
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