Halifax company fined after beam crushes man

Mark Priestley
Mark Priestley

A Halifax firm has been fined £8,000 after a six ton steel beam crushed an employee leaving him partially paralysed from the waist down.

Mark Priestley, 34, was working at Elland Steel Structures in January 2011 when he was pinned against a skip by the beam, leaving him with irreversible spinal and nerve damage.

Mr Priestley, of Claremount, Halifax, who is married with a young son, was in hospital for five months. He regained some movement in his legs, but is largely confined to a wheelchair, needs intensive therapy and is unlikely to work again.

At Bradford Crown Court the Gibbett Street firm admitted they failed to provide and maintain a safe system of work for moving and handling steal beams on the basis the risk assessment was inadequate but did not accept any causal relevance between the risk assessment and the accident

John Harrison, prosecuting, said: “The procedural deficiencies and failures in the defendant’s health and safety management system, may not have been directly causative of this accident but those deficiencies allowed unsafe working practices to be undertaken in the factory.

“It was not unusual for the chain to form kinks as it fell. Mr Priestley bent down under the beam to try and free the coiled chain, by pulling or shaking the chain so the chain could be passed around the beam for slinging.

“The precise mechanism of what followed remains unclear but it is not disputed that the beam was resting on a flat side when it toppled over onto Mr Priestley.”

The court also heard that the deficiencies were highlighted by the introduction of appropriate safety measures after the accident.

In mitigation, Jeremy Freedman, said the company accepted more refresher training was needed but that was not significant in causing the accident.

“The work being carried out was not unfamiliar.

“Mr Priestley was not given a refresher training but he was not being asked to do a job he was incompetent to do.

“He had served a full apprenticeship and had full training in operating a crane to move steel beams.”

Mr Freedman also added the risk assessments in the company were being reviewed at the time but they had been prioritised and not been able to assess the one involving moving steal beams.

Judge David Hatton QC said the Health and Safety Executive presented its case on the basis there were deficiencies that allowed unsafe working practice. However, it did not directly lead to the cause of the tragic accident.

He also added that the company had a good health and safety record over the 40 years in business.

The judge also ordered the company to pay costs of £20,000.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher said: “This incident could have been avoided had Elland Steel fulfilled its responsibilities to fully assess the risks involved with this heavy lifting, and then put measures in place to mitigate those risks.”