Personal injury at fertiliser firm highlights need for employer vigilance

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An accident at work caused an employee to sustain a serious back injury and a fractured thigh after a bag of fertiliser slipped from a stack and knocked him to the floor.

When the accident happened in April 2008, the employee had been clearing a spillage beneath the stack at a Fertiliser company. He had been hooking 3 layers of fallen ammonium nitrate bags onto a forklift truck when he and a co-worker noticed 2 of the stacked bags leaning to one side. A bag fell and hit him when he turned his back on the stack.

Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard that, due to continuous back pain and limited movement, the employee had been unable to return to work. He spent 3 weeks in hospital after the accident, was forced to wear a back brace for 5 months and later had back surgery.

Pleading guilty to 2 health and safety offences, his employer was fined a total of £10,500 and ordered to pay costs of almost £12,500.

Lisa Sheldon, Personal Injury Solicitor at Simpson Millar LLP believes workforce health and safety should be an employer’s priority, irrespective of the industry sector or size of company. "To identify potential health and safety hazards, a risk assessment is a good place to start, together with the appointment of someone competent in H&S issues," she said. "In larger businesses this would be a staff member with health and safety training, or one of the owners in a smaller firm. Whoever is appointed, they should be able to quickly spot even minor H&S discrepancies."

Health and Safety Executive inspector Catherine Rimmer noted that, although the company's risk assessment for the bag store had identified falling bags from the stacks as a hazard, the control measures were too generic and made no reference to any safe working procedures.

"Had the 2 bags that remained on the third layer of the stack and which were seen leaning been removed with a forklift truck before allowing workers into the area, the employee would not have been injured," said Catherine. "The incident highlights the importance for all companies in the fertiliser industry to ensure that they have effective arrangements in place for the safe stacking of fertiliser bags and for dealing with bag falls from stacks."



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