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Dominique Smith acts for family in workplace death inquest

News | Wed 21st Dec, 2022

Dominique Smith, instructed by Grant Incles and Sophie Connolly of Russell-Cooke solicitors, acted for the family of a man who died when he was trapped beneath a falling vehicle at work.

Ashley Bullard was a vehicle technician at Wheel Art Limited (now known as Precision Bodyshop Limited). On 28th November 2018, he raised a vehicle at work with a Bendpak XPR-9 two-post lift, to complete a service. As he worked underneath the vehicle, the vehicle suddenly began to move. Ashley tried to move out of the way, however the vehicle nosedived forwards off the lift, causing him a fatal head injury.

After Ashley’s death, an investigation revealed that the bolts in the arm gear restraint rings of the lift were not of the correct grading and were loose, a safety catch on the lift did not work properly, the lift did not conform to the current European standards in respect of measured strength, and there was excessive freeplay. A washer was also missing on one of the arm gear restraint rings. Although a service of the lift had been completed 8 months before the incident, there were no maintenance records of daily, weekly, and monthly safety checks being carried out on the lift.

During the inquest, the following transpired in the evidence:

  • Wheel Art did not provide health and safety training to their employees. Further, there was no requirement for staff members to read the operation manual of the lift prior to use. An employee gave evidence that he had never seen the manual before and was not aware of its existence. He said he was not required to perform any maintenance on the lift and did not see anyone else perform maintenance checks.
  • An employee of Liftmaster Limited, who installed and serviced the lift, gave evidence that his training did not require him to read the operation manual of the lift. He was unaware of the torque recommendations for the bolts set out in the manual, despite the fact this was critical to the safety of the vehicle lift. In his evidence, he said that he did not discuss freeplay with customers, nor how to look out for excessive freeplay.
  • Bendpak Inc, who manufactured the lift, did not clearly specify in the manual the grade of bolts that should have been in place in the arm gear restraint rings, nor was it clear whether they provided all manuals intended to be included with the XPR9 2-post lift to suppliers/customers. Bendpak’s CEO agreed in evidence that the lift should have been taken out of use until it had the correct grade of bolts.
  • Expert evidence was given that the recommended lifting points at the sill of the vehicle seemed inherently unsafe.

At the inquest, the jury recorded a narrative conclusion. They found that Wheel Art had not completed a thorough examination of the lift, in accordance with LOLER, and that the lift had a mixture of strengths of bolts and a missing washer. The jury found that Ashley placed the vehicle on the recommended outer lifting points. They considered that the freeplay within the arms of the lift contributed to the car not being held by the lift. They also considered that the combination of the alignment of the pads on the lifting points, the work being carried out on the car, and the freeplay within the lift arms contributed to the car falling and caused Ashley’s death. 

Assistant Coroner, Michael Walsh, proceeded to raise concerns in respect of the prevention of future deaths, which will be addressed to eight organisations.

Ashley’s mother, Jackie Bullard, said “Ashley died over 4 years ago and, until now, we have never really understood what happened. Thanks to the Coroner’s thorough and detailed investigation, we have the answers we have needed for so long and can finally explain to his children what happened. If the Coroner’s wide-ranging recommendations to improve future safety conditions in car workshops can prevent even one family having to go through what we have, we can feel that Ashley’s death wasn’t completely in vain. Ashley was such a valued member of our family who is missed dreadfully and was dearly loved.”

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