Biffa Waste Services is fined for the sixth time in 10 years
By Howard Fidderman
Biffa Waste Services has been fined £280,000 for failures that led to a member of the public being crushed to death at a disposal site the company was operating in Newbury. The case demonstrates the importance of separating workplace vehicles and pedestrians and, as with other high-profile convictions, highlights basic failures that jar with the offender's stated approach to health and safety.
The prosecution arose following a fatal incident in September 2007 when a member of the public, Dennis Krauesslar, was struck by the bucket of a loading shovel when he was in a covered pit where the public disposed of their garden waste. Biffa Waste Services Limited admitted an offence under section 3(1) HSWA 1974 for failing carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to ensure that the garden waste tipping area was safe for members of the public to use. Biffa was fined £280k and ordered to pay costs of £54,906.57.
'Preventable' safety failings at council tip led to Newbury man's death
Tue, April 20 2010
By John Garvey
Linda Krauesslar confronts Biffa and asks for an apology after her husband's death being crushed to death by a mechanical digger at West Berkshire Council's Pinchington Lane waste recycling centre was "no way for a man to lose his life," a judge has ruled.
Fifty-eight-year-old Dennis Krauesslar from Newbury died as he dumped grass cuttings on September 10, 2007
At Reading Crown Court on Monday waste contractors Biffa were ordered to pay £334,906.57 after Judge Stephen Wood heard of a catalogue of safety failings and of near misses at the site.
In one of those, Newbury teenager Daisy Funderburk was smashed on the head by a mechanical digger, the court heard.
In another, a woman complained to West Berkshire Council how the digger struck the wall in front of her just days before Mr Krauesslar was crushed.
The judge fined Biffa Waste Services Ltd £280,000 with £54,906.57 costs and added: “The chain of events culminating in this tragic death were foreseeable and preventable.”
Earlier Oliver Glasgow, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) explained how garden waste was dumped in a central area known as ‘the pit’ and that, in the absence of a “proper or safe system,” employees had devised their own, informal and haphazard safety procedure.
Digger driver Patrick Addaway, then aged 50 and from Mortimer, was told to compress and drag the mounting garden waste away from the sides of the pit, the court heard.
Mr Glasgow said Mr Addaway’s view was blocked by the raised shovel as it approached the wall to clear the waste in the way he had been shown how by other employees.
He said: “The effect of this was to block his view of what was in front of him. Nothing was said or done by Mr Addaway to announce his arrival and Mr Krauesslar was unaware that he was in the path of the vehicle.”
He added: “He lowered the shovel, intending to compress the waste at the moment Mr Krauesslar was leaning over the wall. The shovel was brought down on top of him, crushing him to death.”
Mr Glasgow went on: “New employees were supposed health and safety training on induction. Unfortunately, it seems, not all operatives received this or were aware of the safety file and its contents.”
The site operation flouted “freely available HSE guidance” and “stark warnings” on the need to keep the public separate from heavy machines, he said, thus exposing site users and employees to the risk or injury or death for years.
Mr Glasgow said: “A simple requirement not to operate the loading shovel in the pit when the public had access would have sufficed. We would not be here today and Mr Krauesslar would be alive.”
He explained that staff had to invent their own, haphazard safety protocol to warn the public when the digger was in use and added: “The HSE was alarmed to discover no risk assessment or safe working procedure and no written rules for the operation. The company clearly fell far short of the appropriate standard expected of them.
“Actions that could have been taken to alleviate the obvious risk were simple and inexpensive yet this was an ongoing breach which existed for years. The company had ample opportunity to appreciate the dangers and nothing was done.”
Biffa had an annual turnover of £573.8 million and profit of £49.8 million in 2007, said Mr Glasgow.
The company admitted failing to conduct the use of a loading shovel for green waste in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the public was not thereby exposed to health and safety risks between August 1, 2005, and September 10, 2007.
Biffa further admitted failing to make a suitable and sufficient public health and safety risk assessment between the same dates.
Previously, the court heard, Biffa has presided over other safety failings included incidents in which, according to Mr Glasgow:
· A member of the public fell to their death in 2001 from the edge of a tip bay in Scotland; there had been previous accidents and near misses
· In 2003 an employee was killed by hydraulic machinery; the company failed to supervise working practices or provide a risk assessment
· In 2004 an 11-year-old boy fell to his death after gaining access to a quarry site via a break in a perimeter fence which had been unrepaired for months, despite alledged previous trespassing problems (Houghton-le-Spring Quarry Landfill)
· In 2006 a member of the public was killed by a loading shovel; there was a lack of segregation between vehicles and the public
Prior to Mr Krauesslar's death, said Mr Glasgow, Newbury teenager Miss Funderburk was struck on the head by a mechanical digger's shovel and the incident was reported to West Berkshire Council by her mother.
And just weeks before Mr Krauesslar was struck and killed, he added, Margaret Sherratt told the council how she was alarmed when the shovel struck the pit wall in front of her.
Keith Morton, defending, said: “This is a large organisation that operates 170 sites across the country, employs 5,000 people and handles 10 million tons of waste per annum.
“While we accept the previous convictions are relevant we say that, in context of the operation’s scale, the court would be entitled not to take an exceptionally harsh view of them.”
He added: “The site was redesigned in 2005 to improve safety over interaction of vehicles and people and the changes were made in consultation with the local authority and the HSE.
“In my submission the system of driver training was good. The Environment Agency noted the site was well run and there has been complete co-operation with the HSE investigation. The company wishes to be recognised as a health and safety leader, committed to safer working practises. This isn’t a company who put profit before safety.”
Mr Krauesslar’s widow Linda was dramatically snubbed by Biffa boss Keith Woodward outside the courtroom.
Mrs Krauesslar approached the company secretary following the conclusion of the case and told him: “I am Mrs Krauesslar, Dennis’ widow and I would like an apology for my husband’s death.”
A visibly flustered Mr Woodward said that it would be “inappropriate to do so at this stage” but added: “I’ll be making a statement later.”
Mrs Krauesslar retorted: “It is two years and seven months and you have never said sorry to me.”
However, confronted moments later by reporters, Mr Woodward said: “I would like to reiterate our condolences to Mr Krauesslar’s family and friends. The accident which caused Mr Krauesslar’s death was preventable. But despite the steps which we put in place at the site to ensure the health and safety of members of the public and our staff, we failed to prevent it.
“For this we are truly sorry. We have learnt lessons from this accident which we hope will mean that in future no other persons will have to endure the grief suffered by the Krauesslars.”
Mrs Krauesslar said afterwards: “Whilst nothing will ever compensate us for the loss of Dennis and life will never be the same again, we are pleased with today’s outcome and in particular the judge’s conclusions. As he said this accident was foreseeable and avoidable and this was no way for a man to lose his life.
“We are pleased the fine is the largest ever imposed on Biffa which we believe is a reflection of their safety record and in particular the previous similar incident which happened only 18 months earlier.”
She added: “We are, however, disappointed never to have received a personal apology or condolences for Dennis’ death from the company.”
Meanwhile, the national Hazards Campaign group called for senior Biffa company directors to be held personally accountable.
A spokesman said: “Biffa's abysmal health and safety record is illustrated by the five separate entries in the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) prosecutions database which relate to death and potential injury and the 16 separate entries in the HSE's notices database, including many stop work notices, since 2001.
“While the fines look substantial they are but are a drop in the ocean of the company's turnover and profits and act as no real deterrent as Biffa has shown again and again.”
The Hazards Campaign says company directors and employers will not give due regard to preventing workplace incidents until they are held personally liable.
Buckinghamshire company fined £280,000 following death
Date: 19 April 2010
A Buckinghamshire-based waste disposal company has been fined after a member of the public was crushed to death at the Civic Amenity site in Newbury.
The prosecution followed a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into Biffa Waste Services Ltd after the death of Dennis Krauesslar, at its waste disposal site on Pinchington Lane, Newbury on 10 September 2007.
Mr Krauesslar, from Bartlemy Close in Newbury, was crushed to death by a motorised loading shovel bucket used to flatten and drag the waste away from the tipping area.
At the time of the incident, the site had a covered pit into which members of the public disposed of their waste. As the 57-year-old Mr Krauesslar was tipping his garden waste into the pit, he was fatally injured after the bucket of the loading shovel struck him.
The Civic Amenity site is now closed.
At a West Berkshire Magistrates court hearing in February, Biffa Waste Services Limited of Coronation Road, Cressex in High Wycombe pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by failing to ensure that the garden waste tipping area was safe for members of the public to use.
The company also pleaded guilty to contravening Regulation 3(1)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 by failing to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the garden waste tipping area of the site to ensure people other than employees were suitably protected.
At Reading Crown Court today (19 April), Biffa Waste Services Limited was fined £280,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £54,906.57.
Speaking after today's sentencing HSE's Head of Operations for the South East, Mike Wilcock said:
"This tragic incident could have been avoided if sensible precautions and working practices had been in place to prevent the loading shovel working in such close proximity to members of the public.
"Companies operating such sites must carefully assess their arrangements to ensure that they keep vehicles and pedestrians separate whenever possible