Docker fell 140ft to death - inquest

A TRAINEE docker was crushed and sent tumbling 140ft to his death after a crane driver made an "error of judgement" in moving his cab, an inquest heard.

By Jonathan Barnes

A TRAINEE docker was crushed and sent tumbling 140ft to his death after a crane driver made an "error of judgement" in moving his cab, an inquest heard.

Dennis Burman, 51, had left the cab and was attempting to cross a gangway to the crane's main structure when the machine began to move forward.

The movement crushed Mr Burman between the barriers of the moving gangway attached to the cab and the fixed gangway of the crane and sent him falling from the structure, on Felixstowe port's Trinity Terminal. He died from multiple injuries on June 17 last year.

Following yesterday's inquest in Ipswich, the Felixstowe Dock & Railway Company could now face criminal proceedings from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) as a result of the accident.

The hearing was told Mr Burman, of The Poplars, Brantham, had been working at the port for just three weeks and was on an induction course, which involved seeing how the ship-to-shore cranes worked.

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He and a fellow trainee, Gregory Ignos, had been shown its operation by crane driver Michael Flatman and decided to stay in the cab while the drivers changed, because he knew the replacement driver, Edward Bowdler.

Mr Burman, a married father-of-two, chatted to Mr Bowdler for a few minutes in the cab before leaving with Mr Ignos to head down.

Mr Ignos told the inquest the two trainees spent a couple of minutes discussing where to go for lunch before opening the gate between the aligned moveable and stationary gangways.

"As he (Mr Burman) stepped through, the cab started to move, slowly at first and then fast. We were both shouting 'stop'," he said.

"The cab came to a rolling stop. The barrier on the shore-side pinched him inbetween the barrier on the ship-side and rolled him off."

In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Bowdler, who was unable to attend the hearing because he is undergoing chemotherapy in hospital, said he had begun to move the cab as he believed the men were already in the lift on the way down.

He stopped the machine after hearing shouts and said: "I accept I made an error of judgement by moving the cab without being certain of their exact position on the crane."

HSE inspector David Gregory said the accident was caused by the driver's human error, a lack of strict procedures to ensure safety and a lack of equipment that would stop the cab moving if the mechanical gate between the two gangways was opened.

Senior safety officials told the inquest there were procedures for safe changeovers between the drivers, but none relating to trainees.

Jeffrey Hurst, chief fire and safety manager at the port, said there had been more than a million such crossings at the port in the last 16 years without an accident and he had not heard of a similar accident anywhere in the world.

The jury at the inquest, which was held by Greater Suffolk coroner Dr Peter Dean, returned a verdict of accidental death.

Following the inquest, Mr Burman's widow Janice said: "It is not possible to adequately describe the shock and grief felt by me, my two children and our families and friends, following the premature and tragic death of my husband last summer.

"We are painfully coming to terms with our great loss and are hopeful that now the inquest has been held and the verdict given, this particular chapter can be closed."

A spokesman for the Felixstowe Dock & Railway Company said: "The tragic accident in which Dennis lost his life affected everybody at the port deeply.

"The fatality has led to a review of the procedures for supervising trainees and also a review of the physical access arrangements for all cranes at the port.

"The safety of our staff is paramount and we have co-operated fully with the HSE investigation.

"We have provided support for Dennis's family and colleagues, and the company extends its sympathy to all his relatives and friends."

Mr Gregory said the HSE would now be examining the evidence to decide whether to bring criminal proceedings against the port company.

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