Landscape gardener crushed by ‘unsafe’ skip loader

A self-employed businessman has been given a suspended jail sentence for supplying unsafe construction equipment that led to the death of a father-of-six who was working on a garden in Reigate, Surrey.

Ken Pinkerton, a 47-year-old landscape gardener, was crushed when a one-tonne skip loader he was using tipped over onto its side. He had hired the loader, a type of dumper, along with a mini-digger from Brian Beavis, who traded as Heavy Plant Repairs, of Canterbury, Kent.

The fatal incident, on 28 September 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who prosecuted Mr Beavis for serious safety failings at Guildford Crown Court.

Key flaws identified by HSE with the skip loader included:

  • it had no seat belt
  • the roll-over protection could not be operated, and,
  • a missing spring meant the engine cover couldn’t be secured

The court heard that Mr Pinkerton, who lived with his long-term partner and their six children in Herne Bay, ran his own landscaping business and had been hired for a job in Reigate.

He was using the mini-digger when it turned over. He then took the skip loader to try to upright the digger. However, as he was trying to operate the machine, it went backwards, reversed over some garden waste, left the ground and then tipped over. He was thrown from his seat and sustained fatal crush injuries.

In addition to several defects on the skip loader found by HSE, Mr Beavis had failed to provide any user information for the construction equipment he had supplied.

Brian Peter Beavis, t/a Heavy Plant Repairs, of Nash Road, Ash, Canterbury, Kent, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 6(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He was given a nine months’ prison sentence, suspended for a year, and ordered to pay £10,000 compensation to Mr Pinkerton’s partner.

Passing sentence, Mr Recorder Nelson QC said: “It is just tragic that six children lost their dad. The deceased would likely have survived had there been a seatbelt and rollover bar.”

After sentencing, HSE Inspector said:

“This was a tragic incident that devastated Mr Pinkerton’s family and left six children, the youngest only five at the time, without their father.

“Brian Beavis could have prevented the incident by making sure that the skip loader was properly maintained and safe. Skip loaders are at risk of rolling when they are used on uneven ground. Had the machine had a working seat belt and functioning roll-over protection, it is probable Mr Pinkerton would have survived the crash.

“Businesses who hire out mobile plant must ensure that is in a safe condition and provide proper safety and user instructions to the customer. Anyone wanting to hire plant would be well advised to check all the safety features are in place and that clear instructions are available.”

Mr Pinkerton’s partner, Karen Checksfield, said his death had a traumatic impact on all of their children, then aged between five and 17 years.

“Five of the children are still having counselling. I am concentrating on getting the children through this tough time.

“The main thing is Ken is no longer here. He was my best friend and would support me emotionally. I miss so much not being able to talk to him about things. I can’t put into words how I feel. If I had a bad day he would give me a cuddle, I miss that. It is the silly things you miss like sharing a joke or even watching TV together, or having ‘grown-up’ food and a glass of wine together. I miss his strength.

“There are so many things he will miss in the future, like giving his daughters away at their weddings, seeing future grandchildren – he loved children, he was like a big child himself!”