In the news: Lone worker suffers fatal head injuries

Aer Lingus lone worker

Aer Lingus has been fined €250,000 following the death of an lone worker employee at Dublin Airport in 2014.

The incident

On 5th November, Cargo driver John Murray, was carrying out work unloading cargo at a warehouse. With access to the designated pedestrian door closed, Murray was required to access the warehouse by climbing on and off a 3ft loading dock. As he was climbing down with several small parcels, Murray fell from the dock and sustained fatal head injuries. He was found unconscious 25 minutes after the fall and despite undergoing surgery, Murray died in hospital several days later.

Working at height

Aer Lingus admitted to exposing non-employees to health and safety risks as cargo drivers were required to access the loading bay from the 3ft dock.

The company identified the practice as a risk back in 2007 and had written up a safety procedure. However, they failed to implement the written procedure and failed to ensure that adequate measures were in place to protect those working at height.

Sadly, falls from height remain the biggest cause of workplace fatalities, yet businesses are still failing to put safe work procedures in place.

Working alone

Murray may not have been identified as a lone worker by the business yet he was working out of sight and sound of another person at the time of the accident. This led to a 25-minute wait until Murray was found.

Due to the severity of injury caused by falls from height, response is hugely time critical and in this case, the business failed to respond as they were not aware an accident had occurred.

The outcome

Aer Lingus pleaded guilty for breaches under the Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005.

The charges against the company specified a failure to ensure that adequate measures were in place to protect people from the risk of a fall from height and there was a failure to implement its written procedure.

The offence stated that Aer Lingus “regularly permitted or required drivers to access and egress the building via the loading bay itself”.

The maximum fine applicable to this offence was €3 million but an early guilty plea and good safety record were taken into consideration, resulting in a fine of €250,000

Lessons learnt:

Working at height

HSE advise that working at height should be avoided if not necessary. In this case, it was not necessary for employees to access the cargo warehouse via the loading dock. Aer Lingus agreed that access to the loading bay would be strictly supervised following the incident, to ensure cargo drivers were using the safest entrance.

While Aer Lingus opted to stop unnecessary work from height, for some business working at height cannot be avoided. In such cases, safety procedures must be put in place. Protective equipment and clothing are readily available as well as man down alarms to ensure someone is alerted in the event of a fall.

Written procedures

This case also highlights the importance of implementing written safety procedures. It is not enough to identify a hazard and agree on actions to reduce the risk to employees if they are not implemented.

Employees must be aware of safe work practices relating to a risk and be provided with the appropriate support to ensure they are able to follow such procedures.

Are Lingus placed a fence and signs around the cargo bay to ensure employees are aware of the risk while spot checks are regularly being carried out to ensure procedures are being followed.

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