Inquest concludes death of Stephen Woollas at Grantham factory was an accident

Steve Woollas
Steve Woollas
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The jury at an inquest into the death of a Vacu-Lug employee has concluded it was an accident when his forklift truck overturned and crushed him.

Stephen Woollas, 49, of Harrowby Road, Grantham, died on July 30 last year a few hours into his shift at Vacu-Lug Traction Tyres Ltd in Gonerby Hill Foot.

The jury’s conclusion was that Mr Woollas’s truck hit a tyre which caused it to tip over and he was trapped underneath it. The jury’s conclusion also said he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time.

The inquest opened on Monday and was concluded today. It was told that a post mortem revealed Mr Woollas died of injuries consistent with a severe crush injury to the chest.

After the inquest Mr Woollas’s mother Sue told the Journal: “I am satisfied it was a fair verdict. It was purely an accident. I am hoping this will be closure for me. I have waited a long time for this and hopefully I can put it behind me. Still nothing will be the same.”

During the inquest, Sian Tiernan, of the Health and Safety Executive, said that if Mr Woollas had worn a seatbelt he would have lived. Instead, she said Mr Woollas either jumped or was thrown out of the cab when it tipped over and crushed him.

Miss Tiernan said the immediate cause of the accident was the truck hitting a tyre and overturning. She said the wearing of seatbelts by forklift truck drivers at Vacu-Lug was not enforced before the accident. She said drivers fitted the belts round the back of the seat to stop an alarm sounding.

Miss Tiernan also told the inquest that tyres were stored on the roadway where the accident occurred, causing an obstruction and increasing the risk of a truck overturning.

Yesterday, Managing Director of Vacu-Lug Timothy Hercock said about 1,000 tyres were moved every day at the site and up to 14,000 tyres were stored there. The forklift trucks were checked every six months. He said there were ‘safe systems of work in place’ at the time of the accident. He was aware that it was up to the drivers’ ‘discretion’ to wear seatbelts.

Mr Hercock said there was no record of any truck overturning before. He said the company did not believe there was a ‘significant risk’ of a truck tipping over. After the accident drivers were told they had to wear seatbelts. He also said that tyres were no longer stored on the roadway where the accident took place.

While giving evidence, Mr Hercock said: “The company wishes to express its sincere condolensces to Steve’s family.”

Det Inspt Peter Grayson, of Lincolnshire Police, who attended the incident on the morning of July 30, said it was decided not to commence criminal proceedings. He said the incident did not ‘reach the threshold for gross negligence or manslaughter’.

Mark Shepherd, a witness at the inquest, said he was team leader at the time of the accident. He said he did not see the accident happen but remembered hearing a ‘loud noise’ and ran down to where it came from. He saw that Mr Woollas’ truck had tipped over on top of him,

Another fork lift truck was used to lift Mr Woollas’ vehicle off him. An ambulance and ambucopter arived but the inquest heard Mr Woollas died at the scene.

Mr Shepherd told the inquest: “We saw Steven trapped under the truck by the cab and we tried to lift it off him.”

Describing his colleague, he said he “could not fault him.” He added: “If you wanted something doing right, he was the one to go to.”

The inquest heard Mr Woollas was using a special clamp mechanism on the front of his truck to pick up tyres which were stored at the side of a road on the site. The accident happened after he had picked up eight tyres.