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Worker fractures skull jumping from runaway mobile working platform

14 July 2014

An Essex salad grower has been prosecuted for safety failings after a worker suffered extensive injuries when she had to jump from a runaway mobile working platform at its nurseries in Nazeing.

Zofia Jurek, 63, jumped from the moving platform at a height of about 1.4 metres as it accelerated down a ramp and towards a greenhouse door during the incident on 25 July 2013.
As she landed on the concrete floor she fractured her skull, suffering a brain haemorrhage, and broke a heel, which required metal plates to repair.
Ms Jurek’s head injury has affected her hearing, balance, and ability to read. The back of her skull is still very sensitive to touch and heat and she has not fully regained her sense of smell and taste. She was on crutches for several months, is still unable to stand for very long and has not been able to return to work.
Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd was prosecuted on the 11th July by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that more could and should have been done to prevent the incident.
HSE told Chelmsford Crown Court that the company had not adequately identified the risk the sloping floor posed to workers using the mobile platforms, known on site as electric trolleys. The platforms were found to be in need both of numerous repairs and better guard rails to prevent falls.
The court heard that workers used the platforms to pick bell peppers at heights of up to three metres. They were designed to run on level ground but were not fitted with brakes. On the day of the incident Ms Jurek was picking bell peppers close to the top of a ramp which led into a greenhouse. When she was a metre away from the slope she pushed the trolley across the aisle to the opposite row of pepper plants and set the controls to make the electric trolley travel away from the ramp.
However, when she pressed the accelerator the trolley travelled towards and down the ramp instead. She jumped off the front of the trolley and tried to stop it hitting the greenhouse door, but in doing so she was knocked unconscious.
Shortly afterwards, the company fitted bollards at the top of the ramp which would have prevented the incident.
Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd of Paynes Lane, Nazeing, Essex, was fined £22,000 and ordered to pay £8,830 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Sue Matthews said: "Work at any height is inherently very risky, and it has to be properly planned, controlled and supervised.
"Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd failed to take inexpensive and simple precautions which would have prevented Ms Jurek’s injuries. The risk to workers using trolleys near to the ramp was known to the company but no action was taken to provide adequate protection.

"Employers must always assess the risks to employees at work and take the necessary steps to ensure their safety. This worker sustained a serious head injury and is still unable to return to work as a direct result of Valley Grown Nurseries Ltd’s failure to manage the risks of this operation.”
More details about working safely with mobile elevated platforms can be found on the HSE website at: www.hse.gov.uk/falls/mewps.htm