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Special Investigators - Season 2 Episode 2 - Paper Reclaim Fatality

Stephen Williams, a forklift operator at Paper Reclaim, is fatally injured after being crushed by bales of paper each weighing more than half a tonne. It’s an absolute tragedy. The victim leaves behind a wife of 30 years and four children.

Department of Labour health and safety inspector Valma Harris finds out about the overnight fatality when she comes into work in the morning. She compares notes with the inspector who was on call overnight.

Valma sees from photos that the recycled paper stack next to the one that fell is leaning to one side. The photos reveal that the stacking procedures are at fault.

What’s unclear from the evidence gathered is what the victim was doing at the time of the accident. When the fallen bales were removed, Stephen’s body was found face down, two and a half meters from the forklift he had been using. The machine was in reverse gear with its engine still switched on.

Stephen was an experienced operator, who had been a supervisor at the company before choosing to return to a more hands on role.

Valma talks to the company that services the forklift. Her checks rule out a mechanical problem as a factor in the toppling of the paper.

Interviews with company staff reveal that employees have concerns about the stacking procedures in the warehouse and believe the stacks are too high. It turns out that management do not have a code of practise for stacking.

Valma concludes that the stack that fell was leaning dangerously and, being seven bales high, was stacked higher than Department of Labour guidelines allow.

She also finds that Stephen might have survived if he had followed basic safety procedure and stayed inside the protective cage of his machine.

Valma issues an improvement notice to the company, requiring them to address immediately areas where safety is lacking.

Paper Reclaim is also prosecuted under Section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act. The company pleads guilty and is ordered to pay a fine of $35,000 and reparations of $40,000 to the family, in addition to $20,000 the company has already tendered.

Since then, the company has introduced detailed safe stacking guidelines. Sadly, this won’t bring Stephen Williams back. But it will hopefully prevent such tragedies from occurring again.