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Inquest into deaths at metal recyclers hears of health and safety failures

Health and safety failures led to five deaths at Hawkeswood Metal, inquest hears
Emergency services at the scene in 2016
An inquest is underway into five deaths at a metal recycling plant back in 2016.

Almamo Jammeh, 45, Ousmane Diaby, 39, Bangally Dukureh, 55, Saibo Sillah, 42, and Muhamadou Jagana, 49, were crushed after an 11.8 foot (3.6 metre) concrete wall collapsed onto them at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in Nechells, Birmingham in July 2016. The wall, made of of separate concrete blocks, was securing 263 tonnes of scrap metal in an adjacent storage bay, which also fell onto the workers.

A 999 call was made just before 9 a.m, but all five men died at the scene. A sixth man suffered injuries to his legs and was treated in hospital.

On Tuesday (13 November), the jury at Birmingham coroner’s court heard from Graham Woodhouse, director and operations manager at Hawkeswood, who said he remained “completely stunned and perplexed” by the incident, adding: “If the company had any indication that the bay wall was unstable it never would have allowed for it to stand. I cannot comprehend how the bay wall collapsed.”

However, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) expert Martyn Ostcliffe told the inquest that wall was “overloaded and not safe… In my view it could have gone at any time. It only wanted a trigger to give it that last – just something that would just send it over."

Ostcliffe noted that despite Woodhouse’s claims that the company would not have allowed work to continue around an unsafe wall, no risk assessments were in place at the site, putting workers in danger. ‘Brickettes’ of scrap metal stored in the adjacent bay were piled at double the recommended height for that of the wall that collapsed.

Site supervisor Garry Rowley was questioned during the inquest and stated that he had never seen a risk assessment or written method statement. He said: "[I] thought the walls were strong enough because we have done the process many times, we had had no issues".

The company’s Managing Director, Wayne Hawkeswood, claimed that a health and safety inspector, Michael White, visited the site on a monthly basis; White, however, denies the claim, saying he had been on-site for a total of only around 12 hours in the year before the incident. White said: “In relation to this wall, I have no knowledge of how long it had been there, who constructed the wall and what its purpose was. I have therefore not requested or conducted any risk assessment concerning the cleaning out of bays at this particular location.”

A dangerous industry

The waste and recycling industry remains one of the most dangerous sectors to work in, with 16 times more fatalities in 2017/18 than the average across all industries, according to figures from the HSE – 10.26 deaths per 100,000 workers.

In June, a report by the HSE and the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) stated that dangerous work environments, poorly maintained and used machinery and inadequate safety culture were all contributing to the worrying rate of injury in the waste industry.

Sector bodies have been working to tackle the problem, with a campaign underway from CIWM alongside a guidance website developed by the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) Forum. The HSE began its own waste and recycling inspection campaign in October, which will see a series of unannounced inspections taking place to assess risk control and site management.

Awa Dibba, the wife of Almamo Jammeh, one of the Hawkeswood workers, read a statement in court which told of the struggles her family has faced since the death of her husband. "Almamo worked so hard and loved his family. His death has torn the family apart both here and back home in Gambia. It has devastated us.”

The inquest is set to conclude next week.

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