Heathrow Aviation Company Fined Over Worker Death

View of London Heathrow Airport
Photo Credit: Heathrow Airport

A heartbreaking incident at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) has resulted in a hefty fine for an aviation company.

The Court imposed a fine of £160,000 on Dnata Limited, a provider of ground handling and cargo services, following the death of an employee during baggage unloading.

The man, described by his family as a beloved figure, was working at Terminal 3 on February 23rd, 2022.

While collecting baggage containers from a recently arrived Emirates Airbus A380, he tragically lost his life.

Fatal Flaw in Unloading Process

The investigation revealed a critical safety issue with the high-loader equipment used for lowering containers.

The high-loader operator couldn’t see well underneath the platform due to severe visibility restrictions. Dnata was found to have failed to implement crucial safeguards.

The company lacked essential engineering controls, such as sensors to detect personnel under the platform during lowering.

Additionally, no mandatory communication protocols were in place to ensure safe platform operation.

Dnata building at London Heathrow Airport
dnata building, Heathrow Airport by Robin Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Further investigation identified a malfunctioning spindle locking mechanism on the baggage trailer used by the employee.

It’s believed this issue prompted him to move around the trailer for operation, placing him in harm’s way.

Two weeks ago, another employee identified trailer defects, but the responsible parties failed to follow the proper maintenance procedures. The trailer remained in service, leading to this devastating outcome.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers clear guidelines for safe lifting equipment operation. These guidelines outline compliance requirements for the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).

A Wake-Up Call For Industry

The victim’s wife shared the immense personal impact of the incident. She spoke of her husband’s passion for his work and his close bond with colleagues.

Their shared future plans were shattered, leaving her facing life without her “best friend and companion.”

The children echoed this sentiment, describing their father as a positive and supportive pillar of their family. They highlighted the ongoing emotional toll, including counseling and extended periods away from work.

This incident raises serious concerns about safety standards in the fast-paced environment of airport ground handling.

The pressure to meet tight turnaround times should never come at the expense of employee safety.

Dnata Statement

A Dnata spokesperson provided a response on behalf of the company, saying: “We deeply regret the tragic incident that happened at London Heathrow on 23 February in 2022, resulting in the loss of one of our valued employees while on duty. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends”

“Our company acknowledged its role in the incident at the earliest opportunity. Since the incident, we have closely collaborated with the authorities in their investigations and undertaken a comprehensive review of our safety protocols.”

“We are seeking to change the recognised international ground handling safety standards to incorporate our learnings to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.

“The safety of our employees and our customers and their passengers remains our utmost priority.”

“We are dedicated to continually enhancing our training and processes to ensure the highest possible level of safety across all of our operations.”

HSE inspector Gordon Carson said: “Dnata had identified a risk of employees being crushed by the platforms of high-loaders.”

“However, the measures it had put in place before this incident occurred failed to ensure that work in close proximity to these machines could be carried out safely.”

“Numerous hazards exist during airport ground handling activities and companies providing these services should ensure their activities comply with UK health and safety legislation.”

A Call for Change

Westminster Magistrates’ Court imposed a fine of £160,000 over the Heathrow accident on 17 April 2024.

The hefty fine imposed on Dnata Limited sends a strong message to the aviation industry in general.

Companies must be vigilant and prioritize robust safety protocols to ensure clear communication between ground staff and equipment operators.

Regular maintenance checks and adherence to HSE guidelines are crucial to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
5 Min Read
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