Cumbrian oil distributor fined after worker's fall

A Cumbrian oil distributor has appeared in court for safety breaches after an employee fell from the top of a tanker.

Carrs Billington Agriculture (Sales) Ltd, which trades as Wallace Oils, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the incident at its depot in Langwathby on November 12 2012.

Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard how David Strong, 39, from Carlisle, had returned to the depot following his morning delivery run and climbed onto the top of the tanker, which had no guard rail, to use a dipstick to check the remaining fuel level.

As he did so, he lost his balance and fell over three metres to the concrete floor below suffering a broken arm.

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Equipment was in place to allow drivers to empty any remaining fuel from the tanker before refilling it. But the HSE investigation found it had become common practice for drivers at this small depot to climb onto vehicles to check the fuel levels as there was no gauge on the side of the tank and it was easier than emptying the tanker.

The court was told that Carrs Billington Agriculture (Sales) Ltd failed to properly assess the risk that employees would check the fuel in this way, and so failed to provide instructions on how the carry out the work safely. Mr Strong had been trained to use dipsticks by another driver at the depot and no one had ever told him not to use this method.

The company has since made clear in its procedures and training that any remaining fuel is emptied from the tankers when they return to the depot before they are refilled.

Carrs Billington Agriculture (Sales) Ltd, of Stanwix in Carlisle, was fined £9,330 and ordered to pay £360 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Matthew Tinsley said: “A worker at Wallace Oils could easily have suffered fatal injuries because the company failed to make sure its employees were safe.

“The risk of falling from the top of tankers is well-known in the industry. Despite this, the company’s failure to assess the risks resulted in workers regularly climbing onto the top of vehicles to check fuel levels before refilling.

“There were several other ways this work could have been carried out safely – the simplest being emptying the tank first so workers always started with an empty tank. If this working practice had been captured in the company’s procedures and drivers had been adequately instructed and trained at the time of the incident then the employee’s injuries could have been avoided.”

Falls from vehicles are among the most common causes of injuries involving workplace transport. Information on improving safety is available at www.hse.gov.uk/workplacetransport.

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