WE Rawson Ltd , a West Yorkshire based textile company, has been fined over £115,000 by Leeds Crown Court for breaching safety regulations after an incident where a 61-year-old forklift truck operator was crushed by a falling stack of rag bales and killed on 22 February 2010. Later that day the worker, James Welka, died in hospital.
The accident that caused Mr Welka’s death occurred when a column of bales collapsed and two bales of rags – which each weighed more than 300kg – hit Mr Welka in the head. Mr Welka from Wakefield had been working for the firm for five years and was an experienced forklift operator.
Mr Welka had been stood next to a five-metre high column of bales on day that the accident occurred. He had been calling a supervisor on the phone. Nearby, a colleague was moving some bales with a forklift. All of a sudden the column fell over towardsthe colleague’s truck, however the two bales that had been on top fell towards Mr Welka and struck him.
A Health and Safety Executive investigation discovered that WE Rawson Ltd had been unsafely stacking these rag bales. Not only were there safety failures with regards to the well-being of its employees, but they were also endangering the lives of pedestrians around the warehouse.
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.”