Portsmouth port worker crushed to death after cargo container carried too low, court hears

A DEVASTATED forklift truck driver has spoken about the horrifying moment he realised his colleague had been crushed to death by two cargo containers.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 11:46 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:28 pm

An inquest officially opened yesterday into the death of 34-year-old Mieczyslaw Siwak, known as Mitch, who died at Flathouse Quay at Portsmouth shipping port on Friday, August 25, 2017.

The Health and Safety executive (HSE) has given evidence outlining a number of safety concerns, from poor communication between forklift drivers and pluggers – those putting electrical cables into refrigerated containers –  to issues about staff training in safety.

HSE raised concerns about the driver's view being 'completely obscured' when carrying a container at a low height to drop off a container on the ground floor, as well as drivers not using radios enough to communicate with people on the ground. 

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The man operating the forklift at the time of the incident, Justin Gibbons from Locks Heath, broke down in tears as he described the heartbreaking incident.

He told the court: 'It was just me and Mitch that night, and we had worked together before. His English was great and we communicated well.

'He started unplugging while I started moving containers. 

'I put the box in the ground floor position. I parked up and when I started walking over I just saw the top half of his head poking out. 

'I ran back to the machine, drove over and lifted the box off. 

'I just collapsed and picked up the phone.'

The court heard that Mr Siwak, originally from Poland but who was living in Bognor Regis, did not have a radio on him, having worked with Mr Gibbons in the past, and the pair had not used them while together in previous shifts that week.

Coroner Lincoln Brookes said: 'From what you describe, Mitch was crushed by the container. 

It couldn't have happened if the container was higher or if there was radio communication.'

But while he admitted that there were safety failings, Mr Gibbons also explained that the shift was being worked 'as it always has been'.

He said: 'We used hand signals and eye contact to communicate, but we never communicated much once we had set out our tasks.

'I see now that it was unsafe but this has been common practice for years. I was just following what I had done for months and years before.

'We are under pressure from the managers and this became the norm. There's not a single bloke I know who doesn’t carry containers the same way.

'The managers have never pulled me up on this, even when they have been plugging for me; I don't know what went wrong.

'The only reason I can think of for him moving across is if the refrigeration was on the other side.'

The inquest is expected to run until Thursday.