Union hopes for no more tragedies

UNION bosses were today confident improvements to machinery would prevent further deaths after Felixstowe port was fined £250,000 after a worker was killed falling from a crane.

UNION bosses were today confident improvements to machinery would prevent further deaths after Felixstowe port was fined £250,000 after a worker was killed falling from a crane.

Senior union convenor Geordie Landles was "not surprised" by the huge fine – but said many changes had been made to the cranes and procedures since the tragedy a year ago.

Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company (FDRC), which operates the port, was handed the fine during a hearing at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday when Judge John Holt told the company it had failed in its duty to ensure the safety of new employee Dennis Burman.

Mr Burman, 51, died on June 17 last year, just three weeks into his job at the port after being taken up a quayside crane on on Trinity Terminal an induction course.

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As he attempted to leave the crane the driver, whose view was obscured by a blind spot, moved his cab and Mr Burman, of The Poplars, Brantham, was crushed against a railing and plunged nearly 120 feet to his death.

Mr Landles, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "It should not have been less than £250,000 – this was a tragic accident in which one of our members was killed.

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"A number of things have changed since the day of the tragedy, and the union, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the port have worked very closely together on a number of modifications to the cranes which will hopefully prevent any kind of accident like this happening again.

"I am confident that a similar accident will not happen again."

The HSE had taken the accident very seriously indeed and the effect of the modifications to the cranes would be monitored closely.

FDRC admitted breaching health and safety regulations.

In issuing the fine and ordering the company to pay more than £27,000 in costs, Judge John Holt said the company had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment of the procedure of taking employees, particularly trainees, onto cranes.

He said the failure to carry out such an assessment was a major factor in the married father-of-two's death.

"It is quite clear this accident would not have happened if the crane driver had been instructed to always escort visitors off the crane or an interlocking device had been fitted to prevent movement of the crane," Judge Holt said.

"This accident may not have happened if trainees had been instructed not to leave the train unless if accompanied by a driver.

"I am satisfied this accident was a clear consequence of a breach of duty of Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.

"Their fault was not carrying out a proper risk assessment for visitors, and trainees in particular, to these cranes.

"If they had done, they would have realised there was a risk of a crane moving while visitors were on the platform and could have told crane drivers to escort all visitors off the platform.

"In my judgement it is clear the main cause of this accident was this fault."

Judge Holt said visits to cranes at the port similar to the one during which Mr Burman was killed had been conducted since 1998.

"Five years passed and no risk assessment was carried out. Five years is a long time to carry out a risk assessment," he said.

Mandy McLean, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said on the day in question Mr Burman and fellow trainee Gregory Ignof had been shown how a crane worked by driver Michael Flatman. The men decided to stay in the cab while the drivers changed because they knew the replacement driver Edward Bowdler.

Mr Burman chatted to Mr Bowdler in the cab before leaving with Mr Ignof. The men spent a couple of minutes putting on gloves and discussing what they were going to do next before opening a gate between the moveable and stationary gangways.

As Mr Burman stepped through, the cab started to move and both men shouted at the driver to stop.

Mr Burman was crushed between the barriers and fell to his death when one of the railings, which had buckled, sprang back violently.

The court heard Mr Bowdler had begun to move the cab as he believed the men were in a lift on their way down the crane.

He accepted he had made an error of judgement in moving the crane without being certain of the men's exact position.

Toby Riley, for FDRC, said it had an excellent safety record and had no previous convictions.

"Even the most responsible employer can make a mistake," he said.

After the hearing, David Gregory of the HSE said the severity of the fine against Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company represented the seriousness of the offence.

"It is imperative employees and particularly trainees are adequately supervised and not exposed to risk," he said.

He added: "The accident should not have occurred. It was totally preventable.

"Trainees, given their vulnerability and experience, need to be adequately supervised."

Mr Burman's widow Janice thanked the court and the Health and Safety Executive for its work in putting the case but said the ordeal was not over for the family.

In a statement read by Health and Safety Executive principal inspector Annette Hall, Mrs Burman said: "I appreciate the work of the HSE and the positive attitude of the court toward me and my family during this time.

"We obviously have to move forward. It is not the end for us."

FDRC expressed its sympathy to Mr Burman's family and said it was working to ensure the safety of employees at Felixstowe port.

The company's corporate affairs manager Paul Davey said: "The Port of Felixstowe has already expressed, but would like to reiterate, it's regret and deepest sympathy for the loss of Dennis Burman.

"The company takes very seriously its responsibilities towards ensuring the safety of all its employees but has accepted from the outset that, in this case, it failed in this duty."

FOLLOWING the death of Dennis Burman the Port of Felixstowe launched a safety improvement programme which has seen £1million committed to modifying cranes and improving safety.

All cranes at the port are now fitted with interlocking systems, which do not allow walkways to separate while people on them.

These interlocking systems are designed to prevent the kind of accident that killed Mr Burman.

Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager for Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, said: "Since the accident care has been taken to learn from the events that led to the tragic death of Mr Burman.

"New procedures have been introduced, and modifications have been made to a number of cranes at the port in an effort to ensure that such an accident cannot happen again.

"The port is committed to continuing work with the Health and Safety Executive, safety organisations, and others within the port industry, to provide its employees with as safe an environment as possible in which to work."

The Health and Safety Executive yesterday said it was satisfied satisfactory safety measures were now in place at the port and it said the events surrounding Mr Burman's death had uncovered issues of national significance regarding the safety of employees around cranes.

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