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Council fined for waste vehicle reversing deaths

South Lakeland District Council has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £50,000 after two women were killed by reversing waste vehicles within a year.

The council, located in the Lake District, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found the local authority had failed to tackle risks from reversing vehicles.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that Mary Cook from Nottingham had been walking down a single-track lane in Grasmere while on holiday with her husband on 2 June 2010. She was struck by a reversing waste truck and died from her injuries.

The driver admitted to causing death by careless driving in a separate prosecution. However, the HSE investigation also found that it was standard practice for 7.5 tonne bin lorries to reverse down the track to reach a holiday rental home, without anyone walking behind to guide the driver.

The court was told the council should have reviewed all its bin collection rounds after the incident to eliminate reversing whenever possible, or to make sure employees guided drivers from behind vehicles when it was necessary to reverse.

However, the council started reversing trucks onto the grounds of St Marys School in Windermere instead of collecting waste from outside the school gates.

On 17 March 2011, council employee Dorothy Harkes, from Ulverston, was walking behind a waste truck to guide the driver when she was struck, causing fatal injuries.

The driver of the vehicle was also convicted of causing death by careless driving, but the HSE investigation found there had been no need for council trucks to reverse onto the school grounds.

Mark Dawson, HSE’s principal inspector for Cumbria and North Lancashire, said: “Both the drivers have already admitted their part in Mary and Dorothy’s deaths but our investigation found the council had not done all it should have to protect the public and their employees from the danger of reversing rubbish trucks.

“What’s particularly disappointing is that the council actually introduced reversing as part of its collection of recycling waste from St Marys School, rather than trying to eliminate it wherever possible following Mary’s death.”

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