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Waste firm fined £3m following deaths of two lorry drivers

Waste management firm Valencia has been fined a total of £3 million following the deaths of two lorry drivers in two in separate incidents.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK investigated both incidents and subsequently prosecuted Valencia Waste Management Limited, formerly known as Viridor Waste Management Limited.

Michael Atkin, from Wetherby, lost his life while collecting a load of wastepaper bales at Valencia Waste Management Limited’s Grendon Road site in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, on 10th October, 2019.

The 63-year-old, a HGV driver employed by RT Keedwell, had been working at the site with a Valencia Waste Management employee, who was using a forklift truck to load Atkin’s lorry with rows of bales.

With three rows of bales already loaded on Michael Atkin’s lorry, the Valencia employee then attempted to load a fourth row.

However, while loading the fourth row, some bales in the third row were dislodged and fell off the lorry, fatally crushing Atkin.

The HSE report states that Michael Atkin had been securing the other bales onto the lorry before he was crushed. Each bale weighed at least 820kg.

The HSE investigation found it was not custom and practice at Valencia Waste Management Limited’s Earls Barton site for bales to be loaded onto lorries by fork lift truck operators at the same time the lorry driver was strapping bales which had previously been loaded onto the lorry flatbed.

Systems were in place for drivers to remain within their cabs, or in some other safe location away from the loading activity, but this was not adhered to at the time of the incident.

In a seperate incident on 17th January, 2020, Mark Wheatley died at the Dartmoor National Park Conservation Works depot in Bovey Tracey, Devon.

The 31-year-old, who was from Sutton Coldfield but lived in Teignbridge, Devon, was an agency worker on his second week.

Wheatley had been using a lorry to lift two skips at the same time, deploying a method called ‘hot swapping’.

However, the skips were not compatible, as they were of different dimensions, and fell at an angle onto the back of Wheatley’s lorry. He then got onto the lorry bed to rectify the situation but the skips overbalanced and fatally struck him.

The HSE investigation into this incident found Valencia Waste Management Limited had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment into skip operations meaning that safe systems of work and appropriate training were not implemented, and skips were not maintained in an efficient state. Furthermore, sizes were not displayed on the skips themselves.

Valencia Waste Management Limited was fined £1 million for the death of Michael Atkin, and £2 million for the death of Mark Wheatley. The company was also ordered to pay combined costs of £21,054.

Alan Hughes, senior enforcement lawyer at HSE, said: “These were two men at different stages of their lives, but the grief and pain across both families is devastating.

“Both deaths were avoidable. More needs to be done to make the use of vehicles on waste and recycling sites safer. We have a wealth of advice and guidance freely available.”