Logistics company sentenced following fatal accident

Published: Tuesday, 11th September 2018

Great Bear Distribution fined £323,300

At Northampton Crown Court on Wednesday 6 September 2018, Great Bear Distribution Limited was sentenced for one offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in relation to a fatal accident in their Desborough Warehouse in January 2016.

On 14 January 2016, Mr Andrej Grzeszczak lost his life when the vehicle he was operating was struck by another vehicle. Mr Grzeszczak was working at height at the time and his vehicle toppled and he died at the scene. Great Bear Distribution Limited was charged with an offence contrary to S.33(1)(a) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. A guilty plea was entered at the earliest possible opportunity and the matter was committed to Northampton Crown Court for sentence by the Magistrates Court.

The court identified 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. The vehicles were not fitted with sensors to detect other manual handling equipment within the aisle. Moreover, the driving position of the vehicle operator was such that he/she would have to turn their head 180 degrees to gain a view at the rear of the vehicle whilst reversing into position. The court identified 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.

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

a) The installation of a new version of the operations software;

b) CCTV cameras increased to 95 in the depot;

c) Review of training;

d) Review of lighting;

e) Vehicles and operators made more visible.

Great Bear Distribution Limited were fined £323,300. Costs of £30,000 were awarded and the victim surcharge of £120 applied.

Shirley Plenderleith, Kettering Borough Council’s Head of Public Services, 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. 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 14 metres 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”