Warwickshire waste management firm fined £3m after deaths

Mark Wheatley (right) and his partner Keeley Martin

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has fined Valencia Waste Management £3m, following the deaths of two workers in separate incidents.

Michael Atkin and Mark Wheatley died following incidents working for the company formerly known as Viridor Waste Management in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

On October 10, 2019, Michael, from Wetherby, lost his life whilst collecting a load of wastepaper bales at a site on Grendon Road in Northamptonshire.

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 Michael’s lorry with rows of bales.

Whilst attempting to load a fourth bale, another bale was dislodged and fell off the lorry, fatally crushing Michael. Each bale weighed at least 820kg.

Janet Atkin, Michael’s partner, said: “Since the loss of Michael, it has left an enormous hole in my life, four years later I’m still traumatised and I don’t sleep well.”

A HSE investigation found it was not custom and practice at Valencia Waste Management’s Earls Barton site for bales to be loaded onto lorries by forklift 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.

Following the incident on October 10 2019, Valencia Waste Management pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £1m at Loughborough Magistrates’ Court.

Mark Wheatley died following an incident on January 17, 2020, 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.

He had been using a lorry to lift two skips at the same time, deploying a method called ‘hot swapping’ but the skips were of different dimensions. Mark got onto the lorry bed to rectify the situation but the skips overbalanced and fatally struck him.

John and Sue Wheatley, Mark’s parents, arrived at the scene of the incident following a phone call from their son asking for help.

Sue Wheatley said in a statement presented to the court: “Every single night as soon as I close my eyes, I see Mark lying crushed underneath the skip dead or dying. When we arrived at the scene we were held back by the police and so I couldn’t get close to him and couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive.

“That image is what I see every single night when I close my eyes and every single morning before I open my eyes. I shouted out to him that we were there. I will never know if he heard that or not.”

Keeley Martin, Mark’s partner, said in her victim statement: “To say Mark was my soulmate really is an understatement, he really was the kindest most caring man anyone could have the pleasure of meeting, he made a positive impact on everyone he met. The day he was taken he took a part of me with him, I nor anyone who knew him will ever be the same again.”

A HSE investigation into this incident found Valencia Waste Management 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 pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £2m at Loughborough Magistrates’ Court.

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.”

This HSE prosecution was supported by HSE inspectors James Collins and Nicholas Moreby.

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