Doncaster man Keith Jarman had been single-handedly trying to manoeuvre the produce-laden roll-cage into the Oasis convenience store back in December 2012, but in the confined space next to the internal lift he fell down an unguarded set of steep steps and the cage landed on him.
Mr Jarman died at the scene and a judge heard today that his widow Susan was still coming to terms with her loss, nearly three years after the incident.
The company which owns the small, family-run store was fined £60,000 after it admitted failing to ensure the safety of a non-employee while Mr Jarman’s employer DHL Supply Chain Limited was fined £80,000 after it admitted a similar breach of Health and Safety at Work regulations.
Prosecutor Nicholas De La Poer told Bradford Crown Court that the lift at the Crown Street store, which was used to take goods down from street level to the basement, had been enlarged and from January 2012 produce had been delivered in roll-cages instead of on pallets.
He said the system of work for moving roll-cages into the lift next to the unmarked and unguarded staircase was “inherently and obviously unsafe”.
The court heard that a worker at the store had suggested that moving the heavier roll-cages was a “two-man job”, but while he was in the basement he heard a loud bang and found Mr Jarman at the bottom of the stairs underneath one of the cages.
Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC was shown photographs of improvements made at the the store following the tragedy which included the installation of a yellow, self-closing gate at the top of the stairs.
Mr De La Poer submitted that the work amounted to simple and inexpensive steps which would have mitigated the risks.
The court heard that neither the store firm nor DHL had carried out a risk assessment at the premises following the changeover to using the roll-cages.
He said DHL’s failing was not as “gross” as the store’s, but they had failed to provide a clear prohibition on drivers entering the premises.
The court heard that a civil case was on-going in relation to Mr Jarman’s death and Mr De La Poer said he understood that DHL were taking responsible steps to settle that as soon as possible.
Mrs Jarman was not at court for the hearing, but in her victim impact statement she said she was still coming to terms with the death of her husband.
Barrister Matthew Gent, for Oasis, said the firm’s director John Gumbley had been at the store on the morning of the tragedy and whatever punishment the court imposed the experience would live with him forever.
“All those that worked for the company found it deeply upsetting,” said Mr Gent.
“This was a tragic oversight in the context of a company that overall is professionally run.”
The court heard that the firm employed 12 people and Mr Gent asked Judge Durham Hall not to impose a fine in the region of £100,000 which would destroy the business.
Mr Gent said the company had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and stressed that it was not a case of a firm putting profit before safety.
“There was a cheap, easy solution here that they tragically overlooked,” he said.
Barrister Malcolm Galloway, for DHL, said the change of system to roll-cages should have triggered the prioritising of a new risk assessment, but it didn’t.
The court heard that both companies had good health and safety records.
Oasis was ordered to pay costs of more than £7,300 and the judge said they would have five years to pay the total amount of over £67,000.
DHL’s costs amounted to just under £9,500 and Mr Galloway said they would be able to pay their fine and costs within 28 days.
Judge Durham Hall said nothing he could say could bring back Mr Jarman and he could only determine the appropriate financial penalty.
“This death is not as a result of penny-pinching or cost cutting,” said the judge.
Judge Durham Hall said in the case of Oasis it was simply a complete failure to recognise that which is blindingly obvious.
The judge said the system of work was inherently and obviously unsafe when heavy roll-cages had to be manually manoeuvred in an unsafe and dangerous area.