A waste collection company was on Thursday, March 11, 2021, ordered to pay nearly £2 million after a binman was killed when he was dragged under the wheels of his runaway lorry.
Peter Coleman, 54, had tried to stop the Volvo lorry rolling down an embankment at the Woodside Leisure Park in Kingsway, Watford.
The father-of-two, from Dunstable, Beds, who was working alone, became trapped under the rear axle of the lorry, which caught fire.
Luton Crown Court heard that the lorry was found to have two defects – a faulty set of brakes on the second axle, and a mechanism that stopped bins being lifted while the lorry was in gear had been disabled.
At Luton Crown Court Mr Coleman’s employers, the waste collection company F and R Cawley Limited of Covent Garden Close, Luton, was fined £1.5 million and told to pay prosecution costs of £475,000.
The company had been convicted of two charges of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
One charge related to the company failing to do everything it should, to have stopped him being exposed to the risk of death or injury at work.
The other stated it had not done everything it should to stop other people from being exposed to the risk of death or injury.
At an earlier hearing, prosecutor Vivek D’Cruz said Mr Coleman, who had 20 years experience, became trapped face down with the wheels on his legs and pelvis at around ten past six in the morning on Saturday, October 11, 2014.
He said: “He was trapped for some considerable time before being freed. Tragically, he passed away a short time later in hospital.”
“Mr Coleman was driving on his own. It was a refuse collection vehicle that had the facility to lift bins. While he was operating the lift, the vehicle started to drive itself.
“In a panic, to stop the runaway vehicle, he chased and fell and got caught under its wheels.”
The prosecutor said the risks were entirely preventable. There were two serious defects: the brakes on the second axle provided no brakes at all and a mechanism that prevented the bin lift being operated when the vehicle was in gear had been disabled. Mr Coleman was knowledgable and experienced, having worked in refuse collection for 20 years.
On that day he was on a route that would take him to 20 different sites where he would operate a mechanism that lifted bins and tipped their contents into the back of the lorry.
He drove into Woodside Leisure Park, which was his first stop, at about seven minutes past six in the morning. CCTV from the site showed him reversing into an alley to the bin area.
As he was operating the lifting system the lorry began to move away as he had left the vehicle in drive.
“It was driverless and moved towards a downward and sloping embankment. He desperately chased the vehicle. He was unable to get into it before it dropped over an embankment where it came to rest.
“He was pulled under the rear offside axle”, said the prosecutor.
There was an explosion and tyres were on fire. Police, fire fighters and an ambulance crew were despatched. One fire fighter turned off the ignition and put the lorry into neutral.
Mr Coleman was freed and airlifted to hospital, where he died.
Judge Mark Bishop said proper maintenance had not been carried out and the company’s technicians work had not been checked.
“The system was seriously defective. The maintenance system was inadequate.”
The judge said he accepted the company had strengthened it health and safety regime since the tragedy and there have been no further issues.
But he said at the time the company’s approach had been “highly complacent with an abdication of responsibility of a supervisory role in the workshop.
“There was a serious system failure within the defendant’s organisation to address risks to employees and member of public.”
Cawley’s had two previous convictions.
It was fined £100,000 in October 2015 at Luton Crown Court after an employee’s arm was caught in a conveyor belt.
In 2009 it had been fined at Luton magistrates’ court when the metal door from a skip fell onto a driver’s head.
Judge Bishop went on: “I do not find profit was put before safety, but there was a startling lack of insight into its own failings. The company did not take health and safety of employees in sufficiently seriously.”
The judge praised Mr Coleman’s family, saying: “They have suffered enormous loss and the court extends our deepest condolences to them. “I pay tribute to their dignity throughout these proceedings. The sentence I pass cannot ever give them back what they have lost.”
In a tribute statement, his wife Beverley and their children Lisa and Paul said: “Pete was a devoted family man who had a lot to live for. He always worked hard whatever the job. His life was worth so much more than the trivial amount it would have cost Cawley’s to repair the vehicle and make it safe and roadworthy.
“He fought hard to survive the torturous incident, and although it has taken a long time, justice has been served. Thank you to everyone who helped Pete in his time of need.”
F and R Cawley said: “This was a tragic incident and the company has offered its deepest condolences to Peter Coleman’s family. We take our responsibilities for our employees, their families and the local community very seriously.”
After the sentencing hearing of Cawley’s, the judge praised PC Griffiths-Jones who stayed with Mr Coleman until he could be freed from under the burning lorry.
Judge Mark Bishop said he showed “humanity and bravery” by staying with him while the lorry was on fire, saying he had faced a “challenging and difficult situation” and had “acted in the highest traditions of public service.”