Man’s death at Radlett waste centre ruled an accident

Coroner's Court.

Coroner's Court. - Credit: Archant

A FATHER-of-two died accidentally while cleaning out heavy duty machinery at a waste management centre in Radlett, an inquest jury ruled last week.

Recycling supervisor Jason Griffin, of The Wades, Hatfield, was standing on the blades of a polystyrene compactor to remove a blockage but failed to take the safety precaution of turning the machine off.

The 31 year old had been working for James Environment Management (JEM) of Harper Lodge Farm, Harper Lane, for around three months before the tragic accident on December 14, 2011.

A two-day inquest last week heard police were called at 4.37pm and confirmed that Jason had died and was trapped in the machine just before 5pm.

Cheryl Kavanagh, Jason’s partner of 13 years, spoke fondly of the recycling supervisor who was a “very good dad, “very supportive”, and a “cheeky chappy”.

She had given birth to their second child only 10 weeks before the incident.

Cheryl told Herts coroner Edward Thomas about Jason’s intensive work schedule and that in the “early days” he often worked seven days a week.

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During his time working at JEM he lost weight and didn’t get much sleep, especially with a newborn.

She spoke to Jason on the phone at 4.25pm just before the tragedy occurred.

He was on a break “chilling in the shed” where the machines are based, and the phone call cut out.

The mobile phone and a Stanley knife were located near Jason’s body when he was found by colleagues whom, Mr Thomas said, tried to do what they could to help.

Jason sustained extensive injuries to the lower half of his body and died of multiple traumatic injuries.

The inquest heard the machine begins to operate once material is put in due to highly sensitive sensors.

There is a two second delay from when material, such as plastic strapping, is removed from the machine and it starts up again.

Clogged up

At the time Jason died the machine was reportedly very clogged up with extraneous materials, more so than any other time.

Colin Woodham, who trained Jason, said he was “shocked” to hear someone had gone into the machine to clean it, specifically the “hopper” at the top, adding: “It’s just something you would never expect anybody to do.”

But according to the other full-time site staff, Michael Attwood and Sebastian Lachowicz, climbing inside the hopper was a common occurrence.

Both explained how they would carry out numerous safety precautions before entering it, including switching the power off at the wall, with Mr Lachowicz commenting, “when you are working with crushers you don’t need to be a smart guy”.

Despite there being a small front hatch to clear blockages, Mr Attwood said they regularly cleaned the machines on Sundays by getting in them. But he added it was “common sense to turn it off”.

The cleaning method was reportedly “done for quickness” according to Mr Attwood, while Mr Lachowicz described it as a “crazy idea” which was “immoral”.

Ex-Poland resident Mr Lachowicz said he called Phil Robinson, a partner at the Manchester-based JEM firm, about his concerns.

But Mr Robinson denied any knowledge of the cleaning method or of a phone call from Mr Lachowicz.

He also spoke of reducing his visits to check on the site as every week the workers were getting “better and better, and more and more competent”.

The waste management site closed down following the incident, after only operating for a few months.

Mr Robinson arranged to meet Mr Attwood and Mr Lachowicz after the accident, which is apparently when they told him about getting into the hopper.

He said: “I was shocked. I asked them ‘why didn’t you tell me?’ and they both sat there in stone silence.”

If Mr Robinson had known Jason was getting into the hopper he said he would have dismissed him: “If somebody puts their life in danger it’s gross misconduct.”

Concerns were raised throughout the inquest about the health and safety procedures at the recycling site.

Safety guidelines given to Jason on his induction suggested that you could enter the hopper provided various precautions were carried out, including switching the power off and padlocking the electrical isolation switch.

Mr Robinson also told the inquest Jason had training from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) listed on his CV.

Visibly upset, the JEM partner shed tears while speaking about Jason’s death. He said: “We met Cheryl and Jason’s mum and dad.

“We felt that we had to meet the family to express our sadness. They were lovely and welcoming. It was quite an emotional time.”

Mr Robinson had big plans for Jason and thought he was “better than what he was doing”, describing him as a “ready-made sales person”.

He added: “I got to know Jason an awful lot. I was really pleased with his enthusiasm.”

Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner said: “Everybody had a high regard for Jason, he was clearly a very enthusiastic man.

“He must be sorely missed by many people, by his family, by his friends.”

A Health and Safety Executive spokesperson confirmed they were currently still investigating the incident.