Firm fined £187k over forklift death

Robert Wilson, 45, was working at a meal mixing plant on the farm in Co Armagh when he was killed after a metal bin fell off a forklift truck and crushed him.
Robert Wilson, 45, was working at a meal mixing plant on the farm in Co Armagh when he was killed after a metal bin fell off a forklift truck and crushed him.

ONE of Northern Ireland’s largest pig farmers has been fined £187,000 in the Province’s first successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter.

Robert Wilson, 45, was working at a meal mixing plant on the farm in Co Armagh when he was killed after a metal bin fell off a forklift truck and crushed him.

The bin had not been attached to the forklift properly.

Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess said: “Yet again the court is faced with an incident where common sense would have shown that a simple, reasonable and effective solution would have been available to prevent this tragedy.”

JMW Farms Ltd owns the farm at Tynan, Co Armagh, and was fined a record £187,500 plus £13,000 costs at Belfast’s Laganside courthouse for corporate manslaughter, a gross breach of a duty of care.

On November 15, 2010, father-of-two Mr Wilson was washing the inside of the large metal bin, which was on the forks in a raised position. He was standing on another piece of equipment, a bale compactor, but when the bin was being moved away he jumped on to the side of the bin, it toppled and he fell to the ground, with the container landing on top of him.

One of the directors of the firm, Mark Wright, was driving the forklift. He and his brother and fellow director Jim Wright were close friends of the victim.

The forklift, a replacement for the normal machine which was undergoing servicing, had forks which did not correspond with the position of sleeves on the 200-kilo (440lb) bin designed to prevent it from falling.

The judge, sitting in Belfast Crown Court, said this had been the situation for some time.

Judge Burgess said: “It was clearly foreseeable that the failure to address this hazard would lead to serious injury and indeed that the consequences could well be fatal.

“The defendant company has fallen far short of the standard expected in relation to such an operation.

“This operation was permitted to continue for some time. However, there is no evidence that this represents a systematic departure from good practice across the defendant’s operations.

“The directors of a company are at the end of the day fully responsible for the discharge of the duty of care to their employees. In this case, given that a director was in control of the forklift, culpability went to the very top of this company.”

He said companies needed to be aware of their obligations to protect employees daily.

The judge added that the dead man’s family had suffered double tragedy, with his mother Margaret Wilson’s husband dying a short time after the accident - body blows which will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

He described Mr Wilson as “a family man, a conscientious and hard-working man, who at the age of 45 had so much to look forward to in his life and through that to enrich the lives of all of those around him”.

He said: “Two children have lost a father who clearly doted on them. This is the terrible reality of incidents such as this.”

Members of Robert Wilson’s family said they never want a case like this to happen again.

“He was the heart and soul of the extended family, a good son and father and partner,” they said.

Mr Wilson’s former partner - mother of sons Bobby, 11, and Jack, 7 - and mother Margaret Wilson submitted information on the impact of the tragedy to the court. Mr Wilson was one of seven children, the third eldest.

The Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) investigated the death.

Acting deputy chief executive Louis Burns said: “This case highlights the importance of managing health and safety in the workplace and demonstrates the terrible consequences of not doing so.

“The judgment sends a clear message to directors in Northern Ireland, whether of a small or large organisation, that they should take health and safety seriously.”

PSNI detective chief inspector Stephen Wright said there was no hiding place for anybody who broke the law.

“Robert Wilson lost his life as a result of this incident and we hope that this conviction is a stark reminder that legislation is there for a reason,” he said.

Although the judge said JMW Farms had a good safety record, it has been prosecuted for unrelated offences before.

It is also the owner of an intensive pig breeding and rearing unit in Dorset and was ordered by Dorchester Crown Court to pay £61,500 for a number of offences last year, including extending their operation beyond the permitted boundary and exceeding the number of animals they are allowed to keep. The case was brought by the Environment Agency.

By operating Crockway Farm in the way they did, brothers James and Mark Wright increased the risk of pollution and were in breach of environmental regulations, a statement from the agency said.