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Textile manufacturer sentenced over worker's death
A West Yorkshire textile firm has been ordered to pay more than £115,000 in fines and costs for safety breaches that led to a worker being crushed and killed by a falling stack of rag bales.
Forklift truck operator James Welka, 61, died in hospital just hours after the incident at WE Rawson's warehouse in Castle Bank Mills, Wakefield, in February 2010.
Mr Welka, who had been with the firm for five years, was struck by the top two bales of rags, each weighing more than 300kg, when a column of bales collapsed.
WE Rawson was sentenced for a serious breach of safety legislation at Leeds Crown Court in proceedings brought by the Health & Safety Executive. The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
The Court was told that Mr Welka was an experienced forklift operator who worked in the firm's rag bale warehouse.
On the day of the incident, he was standing next to a five-metre high column of bales while making a phone call to a supervisor. A colleague was operating a forklift nearby in the process of moving some of the bales. The column suddenly toppled toward his colleague's truck but the top two bales fell in the opposite direction and struck Mr Welka, who had been out of sight behind the column.
He was taken to Pinderfields Hospital but was pronounced dead the same day.
HSE found that WE Rawson had stacked the rag bales unsafely, using vertical columns, which were inherently unstable, rather than tiered stacking. It had failed to consider the risks posed by the unstable columns to employees walking around the warehouse, and failed to put effective measures in place to control the pedestrian activities around the warehouse.
WE Rawson was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £15,839 for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the incident, HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher said:
"This tragic incident could have been avoided had WE Rawson taken its duty of care toward its employees sufficiently seriously. The sad consequence of the company's failures is an unnecessary loss of life and the devastating impact this has had on Mr Welka's partner, family and friends.
"The company was aware that the rag bales were unstable as there was a history of them collapsing. There were simple and straightforward steps that could have been taken to ensure that the stability of the bales did not present a risk to pedestrian workers in the warehouse area. Those measures were not taken.
"After Mr Welka's death, the company adopted different stacking practices improving the stability of the stacks, reduced the need for pedestrians in the warehouse and improved the control of pedestrians in the warehouse. That is to be welcomed and expected, but cannot compensate for the loss of a life."
HSE statistics for 2011/12 (provisional) show there were 31 deaths across all manufacturing industries and around 17,500 injuries. For information and advice on safety in manufacturing, go to:
21st February 2013