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Trailer Safety: The Consequences of Failing Routine Checks

WorkSafe, the health and safety regulator in New Zealand, is urging businesses to prioritize routine safety checks on trailers following a tragic incident in October 2020. Julian Bruins Yates, a 52-year-old man, lost his life when a trailer detached from a work vehicle and struck his van on Weka Pass Road in Canterbury. The companies responsible for the trailer and tow vehicle, Ultimate Design and Renovation (UDR) Limited and its operational arm ABC Aluminium Limited, have been sentenced for their failure to ensure safety.

Routine Checks and Catastrophic Consequences

A thorough investigation by WorkSafe revealed that the locking handle on the trailer was not engaged, and the trailer’s safety chain was not connected to the vehicle. These routine checks, if neglected, can have catastrophic consequences. Dr. Catherine Gardner, Head of Specialist Interventions at WorkSafe, emphasizes the importance of these checks, stating, “It’s not enough to just have your workers sign a vehicle policy. Businesses need to ensure drivers are competent to safely use a vehicle, especially one that is being towed.”

Furthermore, ABC and UDR did not have systems in place to ensure vehicles were kept in good working order, nor did they have systems to ensure drivers visually inspected their vehicles before use. The lack of adequate information, training, instruction, supervision, and experience for safely using the company vehicles and trailers also contributed to this tragic incident.

The Lessons to Be Learned

Julian Bruins Yates, a father of two, lost his life in an incident that could have been prevented. WorkSafe is urging all businesses with vehicle fleets to learn from this tragedy and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of their drivers and the public. It is not enough to have policies in place; businesses must ensure that their drivers are competent and well-trained to use vehicles, especially when towing a trailer.

The sentencing of ABC Aluminium Limited and Ultimate Design & Renovation Limited took place in the Christchurch District Court. Both businesses were fined $270,000 and ordered to pay $130,000 in reparations. The charges were brought under sections 36(2) and 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which state that businesses have a duty to ensure the health and safety of individuals involved in their operations. The maximum penalty for such failures is a fine of up to $1.5 million.


Read more about this incident and other WorkSafe prosecutions here.

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