A waste processing company which was fined after a worker was crushed to death by a falling carpet bale at its Cheshire warehouse failed to review the flawed risk assessments it inherited when it bought the site from its previous owner, an inspector has said.
The HSE’s Helen Jones told Health and Safety at Work that Fresco Environmental simply carried out a “copy and paste exercise” with the risk assessments that covered the stacking of bales of carpet waste, which were up to 3.6m high.
Fresco Environmental was fined £70,000 after pleading guilty to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The company’s managing director, Lee Heap, was given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Act.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that on 1 March 2016, Kevin Wright and a colleague were at the foot of a stack separating different types of carpet waste before it was shredded, when one of the bales fell on him. He was rushed to hospital but died a short time later.
“[Fresco] talked about doing daily inspections on stacks, but there were no records of any inspections.”
Jones said that each bale, which contained various types of carpet waste held together with wire ties, weighed between 300 and 500kg, and measured around 80cm wide, 150cm long and 110cm deep.
She said: “These bales were not a uniform shape or size, there were bits sticking out here, there and everywhere. Although there was this wire binding, there were only a couple of these on each bale, so you did have quite non-uniform bales.”
The bales were stacked up to four high, and were placed one directly on top of the other. The irregular shapes meant that the stacks were not very stable, which was exacerbated by nearby vibrating machinery.
Jones said that the bales should have been arranged in a pyramid shape or in an interlocking brick pattern to increase their stability.
She said that the risk assessment that Fresco was operating under was inherited from the previous owner of the Widnes site, the now defunct Centrol Recycling. The document did address the stacking of the bales, but it was not suitable and sufficient, and was not even being implemented.
“It talked about doing daily inspections on stacks, but there were no records of any inspections,” Jones said.
Though Heaps was the managing director, he also acted as the yard manager for Fresco, overseeing the workers in the warehouse. “He directed the lads in their work, and had direct control of that process. He was in perfect position to control it and to improve the standard,” Jones said.
She added that Heaps was also the yard manager at previous owner Centrol Recycling. He was present when an HSE inspector gave the firm verbal advice on how to improve the management of risks associated with the bale stacks some years earlier.
Centrol Recycling entered administration in 2015 with £2.5m of debts. It had accumulated more than 600 tonnes of municipal waste at the Widnes site, which was subject to a removal notice by the Environment Agency.