Harwich Dock Company has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and subsequently fined £15,000 after a dock worker suffered serious leg injuries in an operation to unload a cargo container.

The incident occurred in October 2012, when 26 year-old Andrew Gotts was helping to unload containers from a ship using the ship's crane and chains on one of the company's two berths in the Port of Harwich. Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Mr Gotts was standing on an access platform on the deck of the ship while colleagues attempted to free a jammed container. The container then moved suddenly towards him, trapping Mr Gotts against the handrail of the platform and crushing his leg.

Mr Gotts suffered multiple fractures and a destruction of soft tissue on his lower right leg in the accident. As a result, he needed extensive reconstruction surgery and, at this point in time, it is not clear as to when, or if, he will be fit for work.

Following the accident, a HSE investigation found that the company did not have a safe procedure in place for freeing jammed containers and there was no clear instruction as to who should be in charge of the operation. As a result, nobody asked Mr Gotts to leave the danger zone as the container was freed.

In addition, the HSE found that workers were being exposed to the risk of falls during off-loading operations, seeing as they would walk across the top of the container to attach chains with nothing in place to prevent falls. Whilst the company actually stated in their policy that harnesses should be worn, the supervisors were not enforcing it.

Harwich Dock Company Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and were subsequently fined. The company was also ordered to pay £14,761 in costs.

HSE inspector Toni Drury said following the hearing, “This incident was entirely preventable. Mr Gotts was injured by a jammed container when it suddenly freed and he sustained horrific and life-changing injuries. The risk of containers jamming is well-known in the port industry. There should have been a clear procedure known to the workers, including keeping people clear of the jammed container and having one individual designated to manage operations.”

“If Harwich Dock company had properly assessed and managed the risks to all dock workers during the unloading of containers, and particularly to agency workers who are less familiar with tasks and settings, an alternative method of working would have been used and risks reduced. As it was, they were exposed to significant dangers exacerbated by failings in the company’s supervision.”