Inadequate health and safety blamed after caravan crushed man to death
An employer provided inadequate health and safety training before a caravan collapsed on a worker in Northern Ireland and crushed him to death, an expert told an inquest.
No risk assessment was carried out nor safe systems of work in place when Thomas Houston, 50, was killed, an environmental health officer who investigated said.
The married site worker at the popular Silvercove Holiday Park in Kilkeel, Co Down, was attempting to put a jack in place before changing a wheel when the ageing mobile home fell on his back in February 2012.
Investigator Sinead Trainor said: "The employer had no risk assessment undertaken, therefore no protective measures had been identified. The employer had provided inadequate health and safety training."
The static caravan was around a decade old and measured 35ft by 12ft (10.6m by 3.6m).
It was being taken by a tractor to another part of the site for sale when bearings on a wheel malfunctioned and the caravan fell over, worker and witness Kenneth Crutchley told an inquest in Newry.
The caravan was old and had been exposed to coastal salt air.
Site workers placed two bottle jacks under the caravan but one was removed to situate it into a more central position.
When Mr Houston was under the home repositioning the jack the one remaining jack collapsed and the caravan fell, breaking his spine and ribs.
Efforts to raise it again failed and emergency services were called before a plank was used to lever it up, a colleague of Mr Houston added.
Mr Houston was from Rooney Park in Kilkeel and died at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. His family were in the courthouse for the inquest.
Ms Trainor, who works at what is now Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, said the lifting equipment was not placed on the dedicated jacking point. No trolley jacks, which have more contact with the ground, were available at the site.
She added: "The absence of risk assessments and safe systems of work demonstrates that the employer did not ensure the health, safety and welfare of all his employees.
"The employer did not have safe systems at work. The employer had no risk assessment put in place and therefore no arrangements put in place."
She said a combination of bottle and trolley jacks, which are on wheels and operated with long levers to avoid users going under vehicles, could have been used to lift caravans, depending on the circumstances and an assessment of risk.
Deputy state pathologist Alistair Bentley found the victim died from crushing asphyxia and chest injury.
Ms Trainor said neither jack had safe working limits for weight clearly displayed on them.
Senior coroner John Leckey said: "It raises very, very serious matters that would require to be addressed immediately I would have thought, bearing in mind that at the present time we are in the middle of the caravanning season."
Since the accident, employees at all the owner's sites had been given training, risk assessments were in place at Silvercove and the 11 sites within Newry and Mourne District Council had been checked, Ms Trainor added.
Mr Leckey said: "Having heard her evidence, the key points are the absence of a proper risk assessment and the fact that the bottle jacks were not properly labelled to say if they could take the weight of the caravan.
"The other issue is whether the use of a bottle jack by itself was sufficiently safe practice and whether it should have been used better in conjunction with a trolley jack."
The jury found the death, caused by chest injury, could have been prevented by having proper risk assessment and training in place.