Firms urged to review fork lift truck safety following man's life changing injuries at Chichester site

Businesses across Chichester District who use fork lift trucks are being urged to check their safety procedures after a Chichester company was fined for a serious breach of health and safety law.

The warning is being issued after a lorry driver, who was delivering timber to Covers Builders Merchants in Quarry Lane, suffered life changing injuries when a fork lift truck crushed his hand against a metal post.

Robert Gassor, 37, from Oxfordshire, made the delivery on 18 March 2016. When he arrived, the timber on his vehicle was unloaded using a fork lift truck operated by a David Cover and Son Ltd (Covers) employee. The timber was on top of a series of steel metal posts acting as bearers.

After the timber had been unloaded by a fork lift truck, Mr Gassor got out of his cab and started to stow away under the lorry, the bearers on which the timber had been placed.  While he was doing this, the fork lift truck returned and its Cover's driver passed over paperwork. Mr Gassor then returned to stowing the bearers. As the fork lift truck pulled away, its rear swung out and crushed Mr Gassor's hand against a part-stowed bearer.

Mr Gassor was rushed to St Richard's Hospital for emergency treatment. He subsequently had parts of three fingers amputated.

The accident was investigated by Chichester District Council's Environmental Health officers who found there had been a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

During a hearing on Wednesday 29 March, Brighton Magistrates' Court heard that Covers did not ensure the safety of pedestrians on site. Other visiting drivers reported having experienced similar incidents of fork lift drivers driving up to hand them paperwork while they were pedestrians on the site

Covers pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3 of The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £6,000 plus a victim surcharge.

In 2013, the Health and Safety Executive issued an updated code of practice regarding rider-operated lift trucks. The code warns of the hazards of fork lift truck movements. It states that they should not be operated near pedestrians.

Summing up, the judge said: "The accident was tragic for Mr Gassor. The pain must have been unbearable, and he is still suffering enduring pain. It is accepted that prior to the accident, the company had a good health and safety record. It would appear that the company have done everything that they can after the accident to improve safety. The company should be lauded for its response."

Louise Rudziak, Head of Housing and Environment Services at Chichester District Council, said: "Covers is a large and well respected local company and as the judge said, had a good health and safety record before this incident.

"However, this was a preventable accident and could have been avoided if fork lift truck movements near pedestrians had been restricted. Unfortunately this incident has led to life changing injuries for Mr Gassor, he has lost his job and is no longer able to work as a lorry driver.

"Covers have cooperated fully with the district council's investigation and we acknowledge that lessons have been learned. The company has fully reviewed its safety procedures regarding fork lift truck movements and a wide range of improvements have been introduced. I would urge all companies in the district to review their procedures regarding the operation of fork lift trucks.

"I hope this case sends a strong message that the council will not tolerate anybody being put at risk as a result of safety failings and will prosecute where appropriate. Our Environmental Health Officers can provide advice and guidance to any businesses in the district."

Advice is also available from the  Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Date of Release: 30 March 2017

Reference: 3710