Culture of Carelessness Leads to $142,000 Fine for Steel Company

Police Line Do Not CrossThe structural steel company that built the London Olympic Stadium, Heathrow  Airport’s newest passenger terminal, and other high-profile projects has been fined more than $142,000 for not enforcing basic forklift safety, prosecutors said.

Forklift operators drove at high speeds without seatbelts, chatted on their smartphones, and even leapt from moving vehicles, as well as other unsafe practices that were “endemic” among the employees of Severfield, the UK’s largest structural steel company, according to Lisa Roberts, prosecutor for the Health and Safety Executive, that country’s equivalent of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US.

Crash Kills Young Operator

The company’s unwillingness to enforce widely-followed forklift safety rules contributed to the death of one of its workers, Roberts said.

In March of 2013, Kelvin McGibbon, 27, of Northallerton, was operating his forklift without wearing a seatbelt at the Severfield construction project at Dalton Airfield Industrial Estate, near Thirsk, according to local news reports.

McGibbon, who had been warned in the past about driving his forklift too fast, inexplicably reversed his vehicle at a high rate of speed while delivering a load of welding wife to a production line. His forklift clipped a raised concrete step and overturned, throwing the driver from the vehicle. He was subsequently crushed to death.

Deadly Accident Leads to Changes

A subsequent investigation into the accident revealed that Severfield routinely failed to enforce forklift safety rules such as requiring operators to wear seatbelts while driving, according to Roberts. An endemic culture of “not being bothered to wear a seatbelt” had existed at the firm over numerous years, she said.

In the wake of McGibbon’s death, the company issued a work rule that warned drivers that they would be fired if they failed to wear a seatbelt, according to John Cooper, Severfield’s attorney.

Lessons Learned

The tragedy raised awareness of the importance of forklift safety and company management has faced up to “uncomfortable truths” about its lack of workplace safety, Cooper said. Today, the company not only requires its forklift operators to wear seatbelts but also enforces rules against operating vehicles at high speeds and turning on slopes.

Severfield — which also worked on the high-profile Cleveland Energy from Waste Plant and Gateshead Millenium Bridge projects in the UK — also now incorporates regular, rigorous and multi-layered safety checks into its daily operations, he said.

In light of the company’s response to the results of the investigation, Judge Anthony Briggs reduced the find from £300,000 to £100,000, the equivalent of $142,020.

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