It is a sad fact that life changing workplace injuries can affect a worker at any stage of their career, from young people leaving education and entering the workplace for the first time, to older workers, who should be starting to wind down and look forward to enjoying their retirement.
In one tragic case recently reported by the Health and Safety Executive, a 20-year-old veterinary student suffered severe leg and pelvic injuries during her last day of work experience at a stud farm.
She was collecting hay for the horses’ troughs when she was struck by four falling straw bales, weighing more than 1.2 tonnes, which toppled from a nearby five and a half-metre high stack.
She suffered multiple injuries, including broken legs and damage to her pelvis, which was broken in six places and needed permanent metal pins inserted to make it load-bearing again. Her ankle was so badly damaged she may need an ankle replacement at some point in the future.
She spent 19 days in hospital and three months in a wheelchair as a result of her injuries. Unfortunately, she still suffers from mobility problems that affect her studies, including being unable to crouch or kneel and finding it difficult to bend.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the incident could have been avoided if only the farm had stacked its hay bales in a way that minimised the risk of collapse, and suitable systems had been in place.
A partner in the stud farm was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,114 after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
“This incident had devastating consequences and a young woman was lucky not to have lost her life. As it is, she has been left with life-changing injuries and impairments that could affect her chosen career,” commented HSE Inspector Marie-Louise Riley-Roberts.
“This incident could have been easily prevented had Mr Matson, an experienced horse breeder, made simple and adequate provisions to protect employees and non-employees working alongside stacks of straw bales,” she added.
HSE records show that since 2000, 18 deaths have been recorded as a result of being struck by falling bales in agriculture. This does not include those caused by being struck by a bale falling from a mechanical handler.
In an unrelated incident, a 58-year-old lost his life after being crushed while working in a warehouse.
Ronnie Meese was employed as a production supervisor for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer, and had been involved in stacking three-metre-long metal tubes in the warehouse when the incident happened.
With the aid of a forklift truck, he had created several stacks, but as he left his cab to set down timber pieces for the next bundle of tubes to rest on, one of the stacks, weighing a tonne, collapsed onto him. The emergency services were called out but he was sadly pronounced dead at the scene.
When the HSE investigated the incident, it found that there were no restraints nor any racking to support the tube stacks, and the timber used to separate them were not a standard size.
In addition, although the worker had been given training in using a forklift truck, he had not received specific training relating to how to stack the tube bundles. The company had also failed to carry out a risk assessment associated with the work.
The company was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £33,000 costs, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
“As a family, we are all devastated by the untimely, unnecessary and tragic loss of our much loved Ronnie. All of the family miss him terribly,” said Mr Meese’s sister after the court hearing.
“Our grief is exacerbated by the fact that we would still have Ronnie if safety standards had been implemented and adhered to,” she added.
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