The GMB trade union has called on waste management companies in Northern Ireland to “review their practices, policies and legislation” after Biffa Waste Services was ordered to pay £80,000 for causing the death a 23-year-old employee at its Mallusk landfill site in Northern Ireland in August 2008.
The waste management company pleaded guilty to ‘potential deficiencies’ at the site when GMB member David Layland died. The plea was entered under a basis of a plea document which specifically recognised that the death of Mr Layland could not be attributed to any of these ‘potential deficiencies’. Biffa was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
Mr Layland’s body was not found for more than 30 hours after it has been crushed, dismembered and buried under hundreds of tonnes of waste. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland was not able to establish how or when Mr Layland died. But it revealed a number of unsafe practices were carried out when Mr Layland was last seen. This included unsafe arrangements for the separation of pedestrians and vehicles at the site.
According to GMB, Mr Layland’s family is outraged at the £60,000 and see it as a “slap on the wrist” for a large waste company. During the course of the plea, Gordon Kerr QC (prosecuting) referenced two similar convictions of Biffa in England. In both cases they were fined considerably higher sums of money with one in September 2007 which consisted of a fine of £280,000 plus £54,000 costs.
GMB organiser in Northern Ireland Michael Mulholland said: “This is the third death in Northern Ireland in the last few years in the waste management sector. This is the fifth death at waste dumps run by Biffa Waste Services in the last decade. As a large company with adequate resources it is a disgrace that Biffa do not invest more in decent health and safety systems and an even greater outrage that a life can be deemed worth so little.
“It is clear and urgent that there is a compelling need for companies involved in waste management and the legislators, including all of the councils in Northern Ireland to immediately review their practices, policies and legislation in light of these preventable deaths.”
Biffa said in a statement following the ruling on 3 February: “Biffa Waste Services Limited has operated at the Cottonmount site since 1991 and has no previous convictions for Health and Safety offences in Northern Ireland.
“Mr Layland was a valued employee at the Cottonmount site who was held in the highest regard by his colleagues and at management level. The company reiterates its sincere condolences to Mr Layland’s widow, family and friends.”