Runcorn firm sentenced after HGV crushes worker to death

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A Runcorn haulage firm has been ordered to pay £90,000 in fines and costs after an employee was crushed to death by a runaway lorry.

Tony Schulze had been trying to connect a cab to a lorry trailer when the incident happened at Freight First Ltd’s premises on the Astmoor Industrial Estate on Goddard Road on 22 January 2011.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the 49-year-old from Runcorn did not normally drive articulated vehicles, had not received training on coupling lorries, and there was no written procedure for the work.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Schulze had been working at the site at the weekend, and had been asked to line up the trailers in the company’s small yard so they could be used for deliveries and pick-ups on the Monday morning.

When Schulze released the brakes on the trailer, it began to roll forwards on the sloping yard. He ran down the side of the trailer, in front on the cab and attempted to jump into the open door but the HGV struck another vehicle in the yard, crushing him between the door and cab frame.

Schulze’s colleagues tried to rescue him before the emergency services arrived, but he died at the scene.

HSE’s investigation found there was not a safe system of work for the coupling and uncoupling of vehicles, and that the handbrake in the cab had not been applied. Although Freight First Ltd had prepared a general risk assessment in May 2010, it did not deal with the task of connecting cabs to trailers, or identify the risk of runaway vehicles.

The court was told that an external health and safety adviser had highlighted the lack of a risk assessment in December 2010 – a month before Schulze’s death – but no action was taken.

Freight First Ltd, of Whitehouse Industrial Estate, Aston Fields Road, Preston Brook, Runcorn, was fined £90,000 and ordered to pay £67,500 in prosecution costs after being found guilty of a breach of Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Adam McMahon said: “Mr Schulze tragically lost his life as a result of the failings of his employer, Freight First.

“The case highlights the need for transport companies to ensure their employees have the correct training. They should also act on advice from health and safety experts and make sure safe systems of work are in place.

“If Schulze had pulled the park button on the trailer when it started to move then it would have activated the trailer brakes. However there is no evidence to prove that he had received training on coupling the HGVs, so may well not have known this.”

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