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Guilty pleas submitted at court following injuries to lorry driver

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Published: Friday, 22nd January 2021

On Thursday, 21 January 2021, Dickies Pet Centre Limited and Mr Richard Ellwood pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The charges were brought by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk following an accident at Dickies Pet Centre's Oldmedow Road site in King's Lynn on 25 June 2018. 

A palleted load of pet bedding being delivered to Dickies Pet Centre was being unloaded from a delivery lorry by a fork-lift truck driven by Mr Richard Ellwood, the managing director of Dickies Pet Centre. The fork-lift truck lifted the load with its lifting forks too closely spaced together, so that they went into the wrong apertures in the pallet and could not support it properly when lifting it. The laden truck was then manoeuvred in such a way that the load of bedding, which weighed more than 800Kg, and was more than 2.5 metres tall, fell from the pallet onto the delivery lorry driver.

The lorry driver sustained life-changing injuries as a result - fractures to his neck vertebrae - which have rendered him tetraplegic and put him in permanent need of 24-hour care.

Dickies Pet Centre did not have a safe system of work for the unloading of delivery vehicles, Mr Ellwood had not been trained in the operation of fork-lift trucks since 2005, and Dickies Pet Centre's fork-lift truck had long been operated without access to any copy of the manufacturer's manual.

Dickies Pet Centre pleaded guilty to an offence, contrary to section 33(1)(a) of the Act, of failing to fulfil its duty under Section 3(1) of the Act to ensure those it did not employ were not exposed to risk by the way it ran its business.

Mr Richard Ellwood, pleaded guilty to an offence, contrary to Section 33(1) and Section 37(1) of the Act, of being a director who consented to or connived in the company's offence, or to whose neglect that offending was attributable.

Vicki Hopps, the borough council's Environmental Health Manager, said, "Deliveries of substantial goods between businesses involve a number of well-known safety risks, especially where fork-lift trucks are used to handle the goods.

"Those who operate businesses must ensure they assess the risks involved for their particular situation and put in place appropriate arrangements to reduce those risks to as low as reasonably practicable. 

"Advice on safe handling of goods is widely available, including on the HSE website. That advice includes references to the importance of those in control of moving goods ensuring that other people are safely out of the way before going ahead with moving them.

"Businesses using specialist equipment to handle goods, such as fork-lift trucks, should always ensure they also observe safety warnings in manufacturer's manuals and keep staff properly refresher-trained.

"This incident shows the potentially devastating consequences for anyone caught up in the mishandling of delivered goods, and, as these proceedings show, failing to reach the minimum safety standards set by law may lead to serious consequences for the businesses responsible and for those individuals running those businesses".

Cllr Stuart Dark, MBE, Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk Cabinet Member for Environmental Services and Public Protection, said: "There is no success in the aftermath of a serious accident like this and its life-changing impact on the individual and their family.  What we hope is that others will learn from this incident and take their responsibilities around health and safety seriously.

"Where this does not happen, we will take action, to the full extent of the law, to give the victim justice and to ensure lessons are learned and safeguards put in place for the protection of other workers.

"I pay tribute to the meticulous work of our council officers in this particular investigation and the work of the Environmental Health Team as a whole."

District Judge Woollard, in the King's Lynn Magistrates' Court, sitting at Chelmsford, adjourned the case for sentencing to occur in due course, after further written submissions have been made to him.

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