Turf Company Prosecuted After Man's Death

HSE Investigation Concludes That Safety Failings Led To Man's Death At Work


A specialist turf company has been prosecuted and fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an incident in September 2011 in which one of the firm's employees lost his life.

Lee Woodhouse, 30, had worked for York-based Inturf for a year and had been tasked with using a turf harvester in a field in Barnby Moor, East Yorkshire on the day of the accident.

He had been experiencing technical problems with the machine and it is thought he had dismounted from the seat to walk alongside it and observe what might be wrong with the cut-off mechanism.

However, the 27-tonne harvester changed course, struck him and ran him over, causing fatal crush injuries. A member of the public reported a potential accident after noticing the machine still running without a driver, whereupon one of Mr Woodhouse's colleagues entered the field to find him dead.

An HSE investigation discovered that a wire link had been put across the harvester's relay switch terminals, resulting in several safety features being disabled. 

These included the switch attached to the driver's seat that should have automatically cut the engine when Mr Woodhouse dismounted, rendering it unable to run without a driver and therefore run him over.

Indeed, the machine had been used in this condition since 2009, while another had also had similar safety features disabled.

The organisation concluded that Inturf had failed to implement safe systems of work and carry out risk assessments, had not properly trained machine operators and had failed to adequately maintain its equipment.

Inturf, aka Turfgrass Services International Ltd, admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £67,000 plus costs of £33,000.

HSE inspector Andrea Jones said: "Life will never be the same again for family members left behind after a work-related death. And in the case of Lee Woodhouse, two young children will now have to grow up without their dad.

"It is essential that all employers with machines for use on farms and in the turf-cutting industry put systems in place for checking all safety guarding regularly, and provide training and supervision to make sure machines are not operated with missing or defeated safety functions."

Figures from the HSE show that nearly one person a week has been killed over the last ten years as a direct result of agricultural work.

Expert Opinion
This is a tragic case and, following the findings of the investigation by the HSE, one which arguably should never have happened. The harvester had been in use since 2009 without the correct safety systems in place which could have played an important role in preventing this incident from ever occurring.

“Through our work we see far too often people who are seriously injured or killed through accidents in the workplace because of safety failings by their employers. Health and safety should always be the priority in the workplace.”
Stephen Nye, Partner