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UK News Liskeard worker crushed to death by machine with control panel in wrong position, inquest hears

20:41  08 december  2022
20:41  08 december  2022 Source:   cornwalllive.com

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A man was likely crushed to death between two raising platforms because the control box he used to move it had been facing the wrong way round, an inquest heard. Lee Benham died when the scissor lift he had tried to move out of the way reversed into him and pinned him against another static machine in the workshop at Nationwide Platforms' depot in Liskeard where had been working for almost six years.

The Nationwide Platforms depot in Liskeard where Lee Benham died in November 2021 © Google StreetView The Nationwide Platforms depot in Liskeard where Lee Benham died in November 2021

The 45-year-old father-of-two was an experienced HGV driver who knew the correct procedures on moving the three-tonne scissor lifts or mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) which are often referred to in the trade as 'Compact 14' or 'Com 14'. Scissor lift platforms are raising platforms that can go up to 14 metres high and are often used on construction sites when working at height.

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Lee was trapped between the two 'Com 14' lifts and died later at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth having suffered fatal "blunt chest injuries due to being crushed between two scissor lifts" on November 4, 2021. During the two-day hearing held in Truro, it was revealed that the correct way to operate a scissor lift is by climbing into the basket except under certain circumstances including loading and unloading the machines onto the back of lorries ready for deliveries.

On the first day, Lee's wife Kelly Benham said her husband - who had relocated their family to Cornwall in 2006 to enjoy a better quality of life - was a well-regarded employee and a well-liked, caring man. She said: "He was a family man. He was hard working and always put his family first and made sure we had everything we needed. He was a good man, kind-hearted and would help anyone out."

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Colleagues of Lee said he was the kind of person to do things by the book who, while complaining to his wife of the workload and long hours and feeling tired as a result, also enjoyed his work and colleagues.

A video was shown to the jury demonstrating how the 'Com 14' must be operated safely from inside the basket via a control box. The control box and its long cable can be taken down to 'dog walk' the machine if required, even though it is not the recommended procedure by Nationwide Platforms except when the scissor lift is being winched onto or unloaded from the flat beds of lorries or if access in and out of buildings requires it for safety reasons.

It was heard that engineers had checked the machine, identified a potential fault and fixed it the day before the tragic incident. While the engineers who worked on the machine told the inquest they were adamant they replaced the control box on the middle railing of the platform as was normal practice, the HGV driver who discovered Lee on that fateful morning said he found the box hanging back to front on the toe-board - the vertical board running along the base of the lifting platform which prevents tools from falling off when working at height.

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This meant that when Lee used the control box the controls were inverted and a forward move could have led the machine to move backward instead of forward, crushing him between the two scissor lifts.

On day two of the hearing, Darren Nash, the technical lead for MEWPs with the Health and Safety Executive who examined the Liskeard depot and the machine which crushed Lee to death, said that the scissor platform in question was well-used but in a serviceable condition for a 10-year-old piece of kit.

He reiterated that the recommended operational use of the machine was by using the control box from within the basket except on rare circumstances such as to gain access in or out of depots which may be too low, or when loading and unloading the platform onto delivery trucks.

He said the machine in question had no mechanical defects apart from a control key which was stuck on the chassis control panel which meant the machine had to be operated by using the mobile control box. He insisted that the stuck key would not have had any bearing on the incident leading to Lee's death.

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Mr Nash told the inquest that when he examined the scene after it was secured by Devon and Cornwall Police, he found the control box to be hanging on the toe-board at the base of the platform. He said: "The control box should have been hanging from the rail above facing around the other way inside the platform. By hanging the box on the toe-board you are effectively orientating the control box 180 degrees out of position. That means that you're inverting the controls and when pushing the joystick forward the machine would go backward and when pushing the joystick backward the machine would go forward."

He said that the machine was on the 'hare' or high speed setting which could have led it to move with greater momentum and over a greater distance than if it had been left on the 'snail' or low speed setting.

Mr Nash also told the inquest that as a result of his inspection following Lee's death last year, he recommended that Nationwide Platforms review their risk management processes to ensure that all relevant hazards, including crushing and entrapments, are adequately managed and that safe customs of work are developed - for instance, where wandering leads are deemed necessary.

James Collins, a health safety inspector with the HSE, also told the inquest that while there was an element of speculation about how the tragedy happened, it was more likely than not - that is probable - that it was the use of the control box in an inverted position which led to Lee being crushed by the machine.

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He told the inquest: "I believe Lee was trying to move the Com 14 but because the controls were inverted it moved in a direction unintended by Lee and because of the other Com 14 being static behind him, the consequences were tragic."

The jury recorded an accidental death conclusion.

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