Firm fined in wake of death

PUBLISHED: 12:29 22 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:50 04 May 2010

A POTATO producer has been fined £30,000 for breaching health and safety legislation after a 21-year-old Soham man died in a car crash after working 76 hours in four days. Agricultural worker Mark Fiebig had worked four consecutive 19-hour shifts - start

A POTATO producer has been fined £30,000 for breaching health and safety legislation after a 21-year-old Soham man died in a car crash after working 76 hours in four days.

Agricultural worker Mark Fiebig had worked four consecutive 19-hour shifts - starting early in the morning and finishing late at night, Cambridge Crown Court was told.

Mr Fiebig, who lived with his parents, died after the Ford Escort van he was driving drifted into the path of an oncoming articulated lorry on the A10 near Ely, Cambridgeshire, in October 2002.

He was thought to have fallen asleep while making his way home in the early hours, the court heard.

The Produce Connection - based in Chittering, Cambridgeshire - admitted failing to ensure the health of safety of workers and other members of the public and was also ordered to pay £24,000 costs.

The case is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK - because the company admitted breaching health and safety legislation even though Mr Fiebig died outside working hours.

Judge Gareth Hawkesworth said the firm had failed to properly monitor its employees and added: "The accident was because, I have no doubt, Mr Fiebig fell asleep at the wheel of his van. He fell asleep because he was exhausted."

Heath and Safety Executive Inspector Peter Burns said after the hearing: "I think this could be the tip of an iceberg. Certainly agricultural agency workers are at serious risk. Employers have a responsibility to ensure workers do not work such long hours they put themselves and others at risk.

"A good analogy is with boxing. A boxer might want to go out for the 15th round but a trainer has a responsibility to save him from himself if he thinks the fighter is in danger. Employers have to take note of what has happened here."

Prosecutor Pascal Bates told the court that Mr Fiebig had worked 11 days without a day off prior to dying.

During that time he had worked on average 17 hours a day and was getting three to four hours sleep a night.

Mr Bates said other staff were working similarly long hours.

"He started early in the morning and finished late at night," said Mr Bates. "He was suffering from chronic fatigue."

He added: "Workers were paid by the hour. For payroll purposes a daily note was kept of what was each worker's working hours. The farm manager had to be aware, and so did other management."

Matthew McNiff, for The Produce Connection, told the court: "It would be wrong to think that any pressure was brought to bear on anybody to work the hours that they did."

He added: "The system failed rather than not existing. It was not deliberate, not a calculated commercial risk."

Mr McNiff said the company was in a "vulnerable" financial position.

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