Unite secures damages for member’s family following fatality at work

Unite member, Bob Harrison, died aged 59 after he fell while supervising the loading of large steel pipes onto the Bright Ocean Ship when it was docked in Irvine’s Quay, Hartlepool.

Bob had 35 years of experience working as a stevedore, also known as a port operative. On the day of the accident, he was working for PD Teesport Limited as a Hatchwayman.

Bob was standing on an eight-metre high stack of pipes inside the hold of the ship. Only half of the hatch was being loaded and this effectively created a precipice from which he was to fall.

The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted PD Ports for being in breach of the Health & Safety at Work Act for failing to ensure the safety of Bob and his workmates while they were loading the steel pipes into the ship. PD Ports made a partial admission of guilt at the outset of the trial, but were not prepared to accept that they were guilty of all the allegations made against them.

Consequently, there was a five-day trial in Middlesbrough Crown Court. Unite Legal Services arranged for the family to be represented and supported throughout that trial.

The judgment of the Court was that PD Ports was guilty on all counts. The Judge concluded that the risk to Bob of losing his footing was clearly foreseeable and that anyone approaching the unguarded edge of the pipes was in danger of falling. Bob and his workmates were all required to work much too close to the edge and there was no use of a dedicated spotter who should have been there to warn workers.

The Judge also noted that there was a complete failure to put in place any soft landing systems. These systems were available on the market and should have been put in the hold so that if anyone fell, death or serious injury could have been avoided. Instead, Bob had fallen onto the hard floor of the hold of the ship.

The Judge was provided with victim impact statements from Bob’s wife and daughters. They confirmed that Bob was a much-loved family man who was looking forward to retirement and to spending more time with his family.

PD Ports was ordered to pay a fine of £400,000 and an undisclosed sum of compensation has now been secured for the family.

Bob had been a Unite member throughout his working life and because of this his family had the benefit of Unite Legal Services to help them after his death. His widow, Lesley Harrison, contacted Unite Legal Services who has specialist knowledge of fatal accident cases. It assisted the family throughout the HSE prosecution and in pursuing compensation.

Lesley Harrison said: “I am grateful to Unite Legal Services for all the help and support provided to myself and my family during this extremely difficult time. We had to deal with the devastating loss of Bob, but at least we had the support we needed in dealing with the legal proceedings that followed his death.”

Karen Reay, Regional Secretary for the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “Falls from height are the most common cause of fatalities, accounting for nearly three in 10 fatal injuries to workers. Employers must fulfil their duties to ensure the safety of their workers. This is a tragic case for our member’s family.

“Unite Legal Services has and will continue to hold negligent employers and their insurers to account, as well as campaigning to protect workers.”