Airbus fined after Buckley man dies in crush


Elwyn Roberts

A HEARTBROKEN widow has called for action to try to eradicate deaths and serious injury at work.

Sheila Williams was speaking after the giant Airbus company, which makes wings at Broughton, was fined £200,000 with £50,000 costs yesterday following an accident in 2011 when her husband died.

She said a fine would not bring her husband back. She questioned whether such penalties were the answer and called for individuals to be made responsible for their actions.

Donald Williams, 62, from Buckley, described as an experienced and respected mechanic, died after being crushed while fitting a spreader – to be used to clear ice from Hawarden runaway – to the back of a tractor.

Prosecutor Simon Parrington told Mold Crown Court the accident had been “entirely avoidable”. 

No training had been given to Mr Williams and other maintenance workers, there was no manual available for the tractor, and the task of fitting implements to tractors had not been subject to a risk assessment.

Airbus Operations Ltd, which employs about 5,000 people at what was described as the largest heavy manufacturing site of its kind in the UK, admitted a health and safety at work offence of failing to ensure the safety of its employees, especially Mr Williams.

Richard Matthews QC, defending, said the company was a world leader in health and safety, but tragically the work of maintaining non-aircraft building items had at that time been outside the main works operation.

The company no longer maintained such vehicles or fitted such implements and the work had been contracted out to specialists.

Its maintenance department, which carried out specialist work on aircraft transport machinery, was in a new, modern centre within a converted aircraft hanger and any incidents, including “near misses” were rigorously recorded and investigated.

Safety was taken as a personal responsibility by senior managers who considered such issues on a weekly basis with worker representatives, said Mr Matthews, who expressed the firm’s genuine regret that a breach of safety had led to the death of such a long-standing, respected and well-liked colleague.

Judge Dafydd Hughes said no fine – the only penalty available – could attempt to reflect the value of the life lost.

It was intended to reflect the culpability of the company under the relevant criminal law.

The accident occurred when Mr Willliams and a colleague were attempting to link the spreader to the tractor when they had not been provided with any training over how to do so and no instruction about the tractor or its controls.

The whole ethos at that time had been one of “trial and error”.

A risk assessment would have alerted them to the dangers inherent in working in a so-called “danger zone” behind the tractor.

“What is so tragic about this case, of course, is that the death of Mr Williams was “thoroughly avoidable”, the judge said. It was a basic failure on the part of an employer who had an enviable safety record not only in North Wales but throughout the UK. 

The court heard extensive remedial steps were taken after the tragedy and the company had fully co-operated with the Health and Safety Executive.

Head of the Broughton plant Paul McKinlay said Mr Williams was a dedicated, well-liked and highly respected member of the Airbus team and he extended “heartfelt condolences” to the family.

He said Airbus deeply regretted what occurred and took health and safety extremely seriously.

See full story in the Leader

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