An Aberlour-based haulage firm has been fined for safety failings after a worker was seriously injured when an unsecured barrel fell from a lorry onto his head.
McPherson Limited employee William ‘Dougald’ Sim, then 60, from Aberlour, was unloading the vehicle at Speyside Cooperage when the incident happened on 14 January 2013.
Elgin Sheriff Court was told today (25 September) that Mr Sim had driven the three-level vehicle loaded with 210 empty bourbon casks from the company’s Fisherton Garage depot in Aberlour to Speyside Cooperage, where the casks were to be unloaded for repair.
He parked along the slope of the unloading bay with the cab facing the front of the Cooperage. A landing sponge was placed at the rear of the lorry to catch loads if they fell but no restraints were put in place to prevent the barrels falling from the third tier other than wooden chocks.
A Cooperage employee opened the right hand side door of the lorry and, walking backwards, pulled the door around and secured it to the side of the van. Mr Sim started to do the same with the left hand side door, but when it was open by about a foot, one of the bourbon casks, weighing more than 40kg, fell from the top level of the van and struck Mr Sim on the head, knocking him to the ground.
Mr Sim, who had worked for the company for 27 years, suffered fractures to his skull and right eye area as well as a vertebrae. He needed 14 stitches to his skull and to his lower left leg.
He was later transferred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for treatment and needed to wear a ‘halo’ frame neck brace for six months, to be replaced afterwards with a soft neck collar.
The neurologist treating Mr Sim told him he was lucky to be alive as the impact of the barrel broke the top vertebrae in his neck, which can affect the respiratory system.
He has since been advised that the bones in his skull and spine may never fully heal.
Mr Sim was unable to return to work until mid-October 2013 when he needed a phased return to work and was initially placed on light duties.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that McPherson Limited had failed to ensure a suitable system was in place to secure loads on all third tiers of vans.
Inspectors found the van was loaded with 210 empty bourbon casks, with 80 on the bottom deck, 80 on the second, and the remaining 50 loaded on top of the casks on the second deck. These 50 casks were ‘secured’ by wooden chocks placed at the front of the casks but with no safety bar or similar protective measure in place.
McPherson Limited, of Aberlour, Moray, was fined £8,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 10(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
Following the case, HSE Principal Inspector Niall Miller, said:
“This was an entirely avoidable incident. Objects falling from height remain one of the most common reasons for injuries and even fatalities at work, and it is extremely fortunate that Mr Sim survived.
“McPherson Limited should have put systems in place to make sure cargo carried at high levels in its fleet of lorries is securely held, and during loading and unloading.
“Mr Sim still suffers a constant dull pain in his neck and head and gets dizzy if he moves too fast.”
Unsafe loads on vehicles injure more than 1,200 people a year and cost UK businesses millions of pounds in damaged goods. HSE has recognised this risk and has developed a ‘Load Safety’ website that provides advice on loading and unloading goods and on safely securing loads. Log on to http://www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport/loadsafety/