£160k fine after Heathrow worker crushed to death during baggage unloading

A £160,000 fine has been handed to an aviation company after a worker was crushed to death during baggage unloading at Heathrow Airport. The man, described by his family as a “legend”, was working for Dnata Limited, a provider of ground handling and cargo services to major airlines, at Terminal 3 on February 23, 2022.

He had arrived at the stand with a set of trailers to collect baggage containers that were being unloaded from the hold of an Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft which had just arrived from Dubai. The man moved around one of the trailers and under a type of scissor lift known as a high-loader; a raised platform being used to bring the containers to ground level.

At this time the high-loader operator lowered one of its two hydraulically operated platforms, which was holding two further containers to be collected, and it crushed the employee. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the operators’ visibility of the area underneath the rear of the platform was almost completely obscured.

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However, the Health and Safety Executive reports that Dnata did not have any engineering controls installed on its high-loaders, such as sensors, to detect if people were underneath raised platforms before they were lowered, or to stop movement of platforms in these circumstances. It also did not have any mandatory communication systems in place to ensure operators were informed that it was safe for them to lower platforms.

The HSE report said: “A spindle locking mechanism to secure containers on the baggage trailer being used by the employee was broken at the time of the incident, and it is thought that this prompted him to move to the other side of the trailer to attempt to operate it from that position. Although another employee had reported defects on the trailer more than two weeks before the incident and it should have been removed from service, the defects were not entered into the company’s maintenance system, and it was available for use on the night of the incident without having been repaired.”

HSE has guidance on the safe use of lifting equipment. This sets out what businesses should do to comply with the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).

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