‘An accident waiting to happen’: Judge slams PD Ports over worker’s fall death

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A port operator has admitted responsibility for the tragic death of a dock worker who plunged 30ft on to a ship in what a judge called “an accident waiting to happen”.

Bob Harrison, 59, died after he fell while supervising the loading of large steel pipes on to the Bright Ocean ship while it was docked in Irvine’s Quay, Ferry Road, Hartlepool, on September 9, 2012.

Port operator PD Teesport was due to go on trial at Teesside Crown Court yesterday.

But the company pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

It has emerged that other dock workers almost fell as well, but that work continued.

Judge Michael Taylor said: “More than one of the operators did lose his footing prior to Mr Harrison losing his and the work carried on.

“It seems to me it should have been foreseeable to any reasonable employer here is an accident waiting to happen.

“It seems to me it was foreseeable there was a very grave risk indeed someone would go over that edge.

“No one knows how it was that Mr Harrison lost his footing, but that shows the danger of what he was working upon.

“That’s what really troubles me.”

Mr Harrison, from Acklam, Middlesbrough, fell down a hatch, hitting the steel floor of the ship’s hold.

He suffered head, spine and back injuries in the fall and was airlifted to James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, where he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.

The company admitted failing to discharge a duty, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974.

The guilty plea was made on a basis, but the Health and Safety Executive, which is prosecuting, does not accept parts of it.

Because the differences between the two sides will affect the size of the fine that PD Teesport will have to pay, witnesses will be called to give evidence next week.

The issues will centre on working at height and the company’s use of soft landing systems.

Judge Taylor added: “When one has a fatal accident in terribly tragic circumstances, I think I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t fully explore the matters which do really concern me.”

Members of Mr Harrison’s family were in court for yesterday’s proceedings.

Judge Taylor said he expects to pass sentence next Friday.