One of Newham's largest employers, Tate and Lyle, has been fined a paltry £270,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of health and safety that led to the death of a contractor unloading a cargo ship at the company's sugar refinery at Factory Road in Silvertown. Tate & Lyle was also ordered to pay £90,000 in costs.
Keith Webb, who worked for Acclaim Logistics based on the Thameside Industrial Estate in Factory Road, died when the chains used to lift his nine-ton bulldozer into the ship's hold came loose. The bulldozer smashed into the side of the ship before plunging into the water at Silvertown on 2 March 2004. Although colleagues raised the alarm, he could not be rescued in time from the freezing river.
The Health and Safety Executive found that welded lugs, connecting the lifting chain to the crane, had snapped off. Webb was forced to sit in the cab of his bulldozer as it was lifted on board by crane because the ladder leading to the hold was covered in raw sugar and was unusable. His death came just a day after another worker jumped or fell into the hold, injuring his back.
Last Friday, Southwark Crown Court heard that the firm had not provided proper means of access to the ship and failed to prevent staff being carried in vehicles lifted by crane.
Judge James Wadsworth said that although there were guidelines telling staff to use the ladders they were sometimes ignored, adding:
"This is a serious failure of management and supervision for which the company must bear responsibility. It is very clear that Mr Webb was a good worker and a very good husband and family man, who is much-missed."Prosecutor Mark Harris told the court:
Although Tate & Lyle supervisors were aware of the problems, it was a common theme of those engaged in the unloading work that no, or no adequate, guidance was given to them on how to overcome the access problems, many saying that they had never been shown written procedures for gaining access to ships' holds.Health and Safety Executive Inspector John Crookes said:
In failing to identify and address these inadequacies before they led to the death of a worker, Tate and Lyle's performance fell well below what could be reasonably expected of them.
Above all, however, this is a human tragedy as Mr Webb leaves a widow, two grown up children, and two grandchildren, one of whom he was sadly never able to meet. This terrible accident should never have been allowed to happen.