Firm hit with six-figure fine over worker's death at Desborough warehouse

Northampton Crown CourtNorthampton Crown Court
Northampton Crown Court
The operators of a Desborough warehouse have been fined more than £300,000 after a worker fell 14m to his death.

Andrej Grzeszczak died at the Great Bear warehouse in Magnetic Park on January 14, 2016, when the vehicle he was operating was struck by another vehicle.

His vehicle toppled and he fell to the ground, sustaining fatal injuries and dying at the scene.

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At Northampton Crown Court last week, Great Bear Distribution Limited was sentenced for one offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 after pleading guilty and fined £323,000.

Costs of £30,000 were also awarded.

Shirley Plenderleith, Kettering Council’s head of public services, said the firm trained some workers using word of mouth rather than proper methods.

She said: “Mr Grzeszczak lost his life unnecessarily in this accident.

“While Great Bear Distribution Limited had numerous health and safety policies and procedures in place, they had failed to recognise that their operations controllers were being trained by word of mouth rather than through a structured and supervised training process.

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“As a result a culture had been introduced which allowed a key health and safety control to be ignored.

“By ignoring a clear warning on the operations system that Mr Grzesczak’s vehicle was already in the aisle, another vehicle was sent in and the collision occurred, resulting in Mr Grzeszczak falling in his vehicle approximately 14m to

the ground and sustaining fatal injuries.

“This sad loss of a life is a clear demonstration to all businesses that proper structured training of all staff is key to a safe working environment for staff and others.”

The court heard that there was no permit to work system in operation and no electronic or physical device installed to prevent two vehicles entering the same aisle.

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The vehicles were not fitted with sensors to detect other manual handling equipment within the aisle and the driving position of the vehicle operator was such that they would have to turn their head 180 degrees to gain a view at the rear of the vehicle while reversing into position.

The court also heard that Great Bear Distribution Limited was unable to show any training package for operations controllers and this was considered to be a significant fault which was directly causative of the failure to ensure the safety of Mr Grzeszczak, as controllers were found to be ignoring a prompt on the computer system used to control vehicles which showed when a vehicle was already in an aisle.

The prompt should have been acknowledged, or enhanced to prevent two vehicles from entering the same aisle.

A Great Bear spokesman said: “Following the tragic death of Mr Grzeszczak during the course of his employment at Great Bear, Desborough, on January 14, 2016, the business provided full co-operation and assistance with Kettering Council’s investigation.

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“Great Bear fully accept the verdict of the court, and continue to make health and safety the number one priority within the company.”

Since the accident Great Bear Distribution Limited have made significant improvements to their systems.

They have installed a new version of the operations software, increased the number of CCTV cameras to 95 in the depot, reviewed training, reviewed lighting and made vehicles and operators more visible.