MOT exemptions have been called into question after a crane hire company was fined £700,000 following the death of a driver.
In what was the first corporate manslaughter conviction involving a commercial driver, Baldwins Crane Hire was sentenced at Preston Crown Court in December, 2015.
In addition to being fined, the court also ordered the business to pay £200,000 in costs.
Lindsay Easton, 49, from West Yorkshire, was driving a 130-tonne mobile crane on a road from Scout Moor quarry in Edenfield, near Ramsbottom, when the brake system failed.
The vehicle, travelling on a steep access road, lost control and crashed into an earth bank. The front of the vehicle was crushed, with Easton dying from multiple injuries.
Following the incident on August 15, 2011, an investigation was launched by Lancashire Police, working alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
It found that several of the wheel brakes were inoperable, worn or contaminated. The engine retarding (braking) systems were also found to be non-functional, disabled or damaged providing only limited braking force.
Mobile cranes are exempt from MOT testing, operator licensing, driver’s hours and tachograph regulations and a whole raft of other legislation, said Edward Handley, a former Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) consultant and owner of Work Related Road Safety Solutions (WRRS).
He told Commercial Fleet: “It is worrying that a large and previously reputable company allowed a crane on the road in such a dangerous condition.
“It makes one wonder whether other MOT exempt machines are used in a similar state.
“The Government seem very keen to lengthen the period between MOT tests, and to allow even more exemptions in the pursuit of de-regulation, but cases like this suggest that it would not be in the interests of road safety to do so.
“I am increasingly of the view that if a vehicle is used on the road, there is a very strong argument for it being examined independently every year.”
As part of the joint police and HSE investigation, brakes were also inspected across the Baldwins fleet, with several other cranes found to have significant issues which required immediate work.
Significant failings were also found within the company structure including a lack of supervision and recording taking place of organised maintenance work by senior management.
The trial also heard the crane was not Easton’s usual vehicle, having replaced another operator when he took over the site operation.
Det Sgt John McNamara, of Lancashire Police, said: “The brakes on the crane driven by Mr Easton that day were in a shockingly bad state and this was a disaster waiting to happen.
“The safety of employees is of utmost importance in the workplace and Baldwins Crane Hire clearly neglected its responsibilities and sadly Mr Easton paid the price.
“Mr Easton’s death was wholly avoidable.
“Tragically the gross failings of the company management have led to the death of an experienced crane driver who was simply doing his job, causing enduring heartache for his family.
“I hope the sentence brings some closure for his family during what has been a traumatic and difficult time.”
Baldwins Crane Hire was also ordered by the court to publicise the incident on its website for six months and put a notice in trade magazine Construction News within three months.