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3rd January 2017

Stepladder fall costs Volvo £900,000 Fine

Car Giant Volvo has recently been prosecuted £900,000, ordered it to pay costs of £5,820 after an employee was seriously injured following a fall from stepladders at their Truck and Bus Depot in Enfield, North London.

The technician was servicing a lorry owned by delivery firm DHL when he identified that the access rope to the back of the vehicle was broken and needed to be replaced. The rope was approximately 3.5 m off the ground and he fetched a stepladder from the warehouse to carry out the repair.   At around 11am other workers on the site heard a loud crash. They found the repair technician unconscious, lying face down on the ground with the closed stepladder by his legs.

The technician was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and had to remain in hospital for a further three weeks. He still suffers from ongoing complications and has been unable to return to work.

Volvo reported the accident to the HSE under the RIDDOR regulations. When a HSE Inspector visited the depot three weeks later he found that the company had put the stepladder, which was found to be in poor condition, in quarantine. One of the anti-slip rubber feet was missing and another was worn. The ladder was not Volvo property (it is not known who brought it on site) and had not been maintained or checked to ensure it was suitable for use.

Around 30 technicians worked at the Enfield depot, maintaining, servicing and repairing vehicles. They regularly carried out work at height, including replacing mirror glass, repairing tears on curtainsider vehicles and changing lightbulbs, and there was a variety of access equipment on site. However the HSE identified that no employees have received training in the use of access equipment, and there were no arrangemnts in place for the routine inspeciton of any access equipment.

The Inspector served Volvo with a notice of contravention outlining the failures he found during the site inspection but said further enforcement action was not required because the company had already started towards fixing its failings before the HSE visit.  Volvo introduced an inspection programme for all the access equipment. The programme identified other defective or non-compliant equipment, which was later destroyed. It also implemented work at height training for its technicians.

The case was heard at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by District Judge Purdy, who determined that the company’s culpability was medium, harm category 2 – since seriousness of harm risked was level B with a high likelihood. The starting point for the fine was £600,000 and the judge took into account Volvo’s early guilty plea and mitigation, and gave full credit for its good health and safety record. However, he also took account of Volvo’s significant turnover and moved outside the category range for a large organisation.

He fined the company £900,000, ordered it to pay costs of £5,820, and dismissed its application for 28 days to pay the fine, stating that it was a criminal penalty, “not some inconvenient invoice”.   Wright said: “This case is not about banning ladders; on many occasions they are the right equipment to use when working at height. It is about companies ensuring they properly maintain their work at height equipment and train their workers on how to inspect the correct tools for the job. As this case shows, even a fall from a relatively small height can have devastating consequences.”

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