Retail giant Wilko has been fined £200,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches which resulted in the death of an employee at a Worksop depot.
The death of George Hancock, 52, from Kilton was ‘an accident waiting to happen’, Nottingham Crown Court heard.
Mr Hancock’s smaller electrically-powered truck was knocked over by a larger diesel-powered truck at Wilkinson’s Distribution Centre (WDC) on Roebuck Way in Worksop on December 5, 2011.
Judge James Sampson said: “Mr Hancock was thrown from the his fork lift truck because he was not wearing his seatbelt. His lower body was crushed by the roll cage and sadly he died of crush asphyxia.
“The crash happened because of the bad practises occurring on the ground at the defendant’s premises. Forklift trucks were driven blind in a noisy and busy environment where warning horns were not heard.”
Judge Sampson said there was no proper monitoring of truck movements and ‘near misses were not reported as they are now. This was an accident waiting to happen.’
He said that Wilko was a wealthy company with a turnover of £1.5bn for the last three years, with net assets of £160m and an operating profit of £2.2m. Its five directors received around £1.7m in remuneration.
He said the company ‘had the resources to employ the best managers’ and ‘those at the top’ were responsible for implementing ‘simple and inexpensive safety measures.’
He fined the company £200,000 and ordered them to pay Bassetlaw District Council’s full costs of £199, 943.
Judge Sampson said: “The fine was set to bring home to directors and shareholders that the health and safety of employees is paramount.”
Wilko had been cautioned by the council in 2011 when a contractor was injured by a fork lift truck.
David Travers QC, mitigating, said: “The failures were failures of supervision, monitoring and enforcement.”
He said the company’s safety record over 85 years had been good and, since the accident, Wilko had improved health and safety at the WDC on Roebuck Way by introducing interlocks - which prevent forklifts trucks from starting if the seatbelt is not engaged - installing a barrier and tightening up the enforcement of safety rules.
Following legal advice, the company pleaded guilty to the prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
An inquest jury at Nottingham Coroner’s Court in December 2013 recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Mr Hancock leaves a widow, five adult children and 11 grandchildren.
Following the verdict, Councillor Julie Leigh, cabinet member for Neighbourhoods at Bassetlaw Council, said:“We wish to express again our sincere condolences to the family of Mr Hancock.
“A death at work is always a most tragic event and the impact on the family of the deceased, their colleagues and their friends cannot be under estimated. “
“Thankfully in this country, while transport incidents are one of the highest causes of fatalities in the UK workplace, they are still a relatively rare occurrence.
“However, lessons must always be learned to try to prevent others from having to go through such a traumatic situation.”
“One of the outcomes of this case is the importance of employers being vigilant in ensuring their fork lift drivers wear the fitted seat belts whilst driving their vehicles, and for such staff to always’ buckle up’ every time they get onto a truck. No-one would want any other family to have to suffer a similar loss in the future,” Coun Leigh added.