A High Peak company has been fined £450,000 after admitting health and safety failings following the death of a worker.
Manchester Crown Court heard how Ben Pallier-Singleton, 19, from Disley, had been driving a forklift truck at Chinley-based Vinyl Compounds Ltd on February 10, 2015, without adequate training, across uneven ground and in an area which was not properly lit.
The forklift toppled over as he was turning and the safety frame of the vehicle landed on his neck, resulting in fatal injuries.
James McKeon, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told Monday’s sentencing hearing: “The fatal accident occurred in an area known to employees as the ‘graveyard’.
“Ben Pallier-Singleton had not been fully trained, instructed and therefore, even on the basis of the defendant’s own risk assessment, ought not to have been required to drive the forklift truck.”
Vinyl Compounds admitted breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 regarding the duty to provide a workplace free from risk to employees, and of the Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 concerning the duty to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments.
James Ageros QC, representing Vinyl Compounds, said: “The gap between what the company ought to have done and what the company did is not as high as the prosecution made out.
“There were systems and training in place, albeit they fell down with tragic consequences.
“The company had no previous convictions relating to health and safety issues in the workplace.”
The company, which was said to have a turnover of around £31m, was fined £450,000 for the first charge and £400,000 for the second charge, to be paid concurrently, and must also pay costs of £71,728.20.
His Honour Judge John Potter said: “The loss of any life is tragic, but the loss of a 19-year-old is particularly so.
“There is very little I can say which will alleviate your terrible sense of loss, but I hope this hearing provides a sense of closure as you move forward with your grief and you have my sincerest condolences.”
In a statement following the hearing, Ben’s mum, Kathryn Pallier said: “I am heartbroken and angry that Ben could go to work and be killed because his employer took so little care of him, failed to train him properly or make sure the workplace was safe. It is utterly shocking this can happen.
“Ben was a young man at the start of his life, full of life, fun and the excitement of plans and ideas for the future.
“The directors who made the decisions will be now able to get on with their lives, but we are serving a life sentence. Any fine they will pay is nothing, no penalty at all, compared to the penalty we face: life-long torment, endless sadness and grief without Ben.”
Ben’s brother, Daniel, added: “The fine isn’t enough and doesn’t make a difference as we don’t have Ben with us. It’s not something we will ever get over.”
HSE inspector Berian Price said: “This tragic incident could have easily been prevented. The company’s management of fork lift truck driving operations and its failure to provide various measures to ensure the safety of the external yard area coupled with the lack of safe driver measures, such as wearing a seat belt, exposed employees to serious safety risks.”
Hilda Palmer, from Families Against Corporate Killers who has been supporting Ben’s family, said: “Nobody goes to work to die but do because employers are negligent and fail at basic health and safety law which is what happened to Ben. Now his family have to live without him and their grief because of the company’s failings.
“Nearly £500,000 may seem like a lot but it is nothing compared to the loss of a young man.”
A statement has now been issued by Vinyl Compounds following the hearing on Monday. It said: “Vinyl Compounds Ltd wishes to express their sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Ben Pallier-Singleton for the unimaginable loss and anguish they have suffered from this tragic accident.
“The company fully accepts the courts judgement in this matter and wish to publicly apologise for their statutory breaches.
“Vinyl Compounds have fully co-operated with the police and the Health and Safety Executive at every stage of the investigation and we have acted upon all instructions, advice and comments issued to the company.
“The management of health and safety remains the highest priority within the company and we constantly work to ensure the safest possible environment for all employers.”