Aviation firm fined £160,000 after worker crushed to death at Heathrow Airport by baggage container

The man died while helping to unload baggage containers from a plane at Heathrow Airport (PA)
The man died while helping to unload baggage containers from a plane at Heathrow Airport (PA)

An aviation firm has been fined £160,000 after a beloved father was crushed to death at Heathrow Airport while unloading baggage containers from a plane.

The man, who has not been named, was working at Terminal 3 for Dnata Ltd which provides ground handling and cargo services to major airlines, when the tragedy happened on the night of February 23, 2022.

He has been described by his family as “loving, supportive dad” who adored his job.

His grieving wife said she now faces life without her “best friend and companion”, while his children say counselling has been unable to “heal the pain that [they] feel”.

The man had taken a set of trailers to a stand on the Tarmac at Heathrow, ready to collect baggage containers which were being unloaded from the hold of an Emirates Airbus A380, which had arrived from Dubai.

He moved one of the trailers under a scissor lift known as a high-loader, which was being used to bring the containers to ground level.

The high-loader operator simultaneously lowered one of its platforms, which was holding containers ready to be collected, crushing the employee who died of his injuries.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the high-loader operators’ rear visibility, of the area where the containers were lowered, was “almost completely obscured”.

The high-loader had no sensors, to detect if people were underneath raised platforms before they were lowered.

There was also no communication system in place, so operators could be told when it was safe for them to lower platforms.

A locking mechanism used to secure containers on the baggage trailer was broken at the time of the incident, and it is thought that is what led the victim to position himself as he did.

Another employee had reported defects on the trailer more than two weeks before the incident and it should have been removed from service, HSE found.

But the defects were not entered into the company’s maintenance system, and it had not been repaired.

Dnata Ltd says “deeply regrets” the incident, and says it plans to implement changes to “ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.”

The victim’s wife said: “My husband absolutely loved work. He called his work colleagues his second family. He used to be so excited to go into work. He used to love making tea for everyone during tea breaks and used to buy tea bags and take them into work especially for that reason.

“The future plans I had with my husband are ruined. After retirement, we were both going to go on religious pilgrimages and also holidays together, go on experiences together, enjoy the time with our children together. Now I face the rest of my life without my best friend and companion.”

His children added: “He was the rock of our whole family. He was such a happy, positive, funny, loving, supportive dad.

“He had an infectious personality and was loved by many in his community. His presence is greatly missed at family gatherings and events. They are no longer the same. He was a legend.

“We can no longer go to an airport without being reminded that this was a place where our father died.

“Each of us has had to have counselling to help us to come to terms with and process what has happened, and we were each off work for a long period of time. However, it cannot heal the pain that we feel.”

The Berkshire-based Dnata Ltd pleaded guilty to breaches of Regulation 8(1) of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and Regulation 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

At Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, it was fined £160,000 and ordered to pay £6,494.25 in costs.

HSE inspector Gordon Carson said: “Although Dnata had identified a risk of employees being crushed by the platforms of high-loaders, the measures it had put in place before this incident occurred failed to ensure that work in close proximity to these machines could be carried out safely.

“Numerous hazards exist during airport ground handling activities and companies providing these services should ensure their activities comply with UK health and safety legislation.”

A Dnata spokesperson said: “We deeply regret the tragic incident that happened at London Heathrow on February 23 in 2022, resulting in the loss of one of our valued employees while on duty. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends.

“Our company acknowledged its role in the incident at the earliest opportunity.

“Since the incident, we have closely collaborated with the authorities in their investigations and undertaken a comprehensive review of our safety protocols. We are seeking to change the recognised international ground handling safety standards to incorporate our learnings to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.

“The safety of our employees and our customers and their passengers remains our utmost priority. We are dedicated to continually enhancing our training and processes to ensure the highest possible level of safety across all of our operations.”