A Suffolk farming firm has been fined £3,000 after a worker was seriously injured in a fall from height.
The 67-year-old farmworker, who does not want to be named, suffered multiple injuries when he plunged 3m (10ft) while retrieving seed potatoes from a shed.
He broke a shoulder blade, fractured seven ribs, chipped two vertebrae, cracked his pelvic cradle and suffered a serious head injury.
The worker was hospitalised for nine days with critical injuries and was unable to work for four months following the incident at Mann Potatoes Partnership, Suffolk, in November 2012.
Ipswich Magistrates’ Court heard on Tuesday (21 January) that the Mann family had employed the worker for more than 50 years.
On the day of the incident he and a colleague had been asked to retrieve seed potatoes from a shed at Stangrove Hall Farm in Woodbridge.
The worker stood in a potato box balanced on the forks of a forklift truck, which was lifted to the top of a stack of boxes 6m (20ft) high.
As he was being lowered back down, he shouted to his colleague, who was operating the forklift, to stop while he freed a curtain that protected the seeds as they dried.
But the box he was stood in became unbalanced when the forks restarted, sending him crashing 3m (10ft) to the ground. His colleague backed the forklift truck away and ran to find him lying unconscious on the ground.
The court was told that although a safe and suitable system had been devised and appropriate training provided, no checks were carried out to ensure it was followed.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that a system of work designed for working safely from heights had been in place. Workers were trained to use the system, but no checks were carried out to ensure it was followed.
A cage was available for use with the forklift to lift up workers to stack or retrieve potato seed boxes, but they regularly bypassed the system and used a potato box to complete the job quickly. It was a poor substitute because it could not be secured safety, the court was told.
Richard Mann, Alexis Mann and Christopher Mann were jointly fined a total of £3,000 and ordered to pay combined costs of £993, including a victim surcharge, after individually pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
“The injured worker could easily have been killed,” said HSE inspector John Claxton, speaking after the hearing.
“Lifting someone as they stand in a box on the forks of a forklift should clearly have been recognised as an unsafe practice, and the onus was on the business partners to prohibit such a system of work.
“This incident illustrates the need for duty holders to ensure work at height is carefully planned and managed at all times. That includes exercising vigilance to ensure the correct procedures are followed.”