Crane firm ‘fell short’ after fatal A92 car crash

Scotland's Traffic Commissioner Joan Aitken has delivered her report on William Whyte Cargo Handlers. Picture: TSPL
Scotland's Traffic Commissioner Joan Aitken has delivered her report on William Whyte Cargo Handlers. Picture: TSPL
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A CRANE firm has been reprimanded by Scotland’s Traffic Commissioner for neglecting safety practices in the aftermath of a tragic accident in Aberdeenshire in which a mother and her two young daughters died.

Ann Copeland, 45, and her daughters, Niamh, 10, and Ciara, 7, died after their car skidded on a hydraulic fluid leak on the A92 between Stonehaven and Montrose in early 2008.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry found that the fluid “probably” leaked from a William Whyte Cargo Handlers’ crane.

The haulier and mobile crane company’s safety practices were subsequently investigated, and the firm was found to be falling short of the standards expected.

‘Safety put at risk’

Scottish Traffic Commissioner Joan Aitken said the firm had since put road safety at risk by prioritising crane maintenance and business expansion over lorry safety, and ruled that the firm’s licence should be restricted.

She said: “The sheriff in his determination of what procedures might have prevented the loss of life on the A92 that January 2008 effectively recommended procedures which are already at the heart of the safe operation of goods vehicles.

“Yet this operator did not have these procedures in place to the standard required by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Traffic Commissioners.

“In the midst of successful development of a highly specialised service to the oil and windfarm industries, some basics were forgotten and lost sight of.

“Such was the concentration on the cranes that the transport side was marginalised.

“I consider that this operator has fallen short of the standards expected.

“Until the sheriff made his determination the operator may not have known or had the insight to know the extent to which it was open to criticism and the procedures which would have guarded against the likelihood of deficiencies.

“The neglect of the standards required by the licence undertakings puts road safety at risk.”

FAI into crash

Last year a sheriff ruled that a crane was probably responsible for the oil leak at a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of Copeland and her daughters, and he said the accident could have been avoided if the William Whyte Cargo Handlers’s vehicle had been properly maintained.

Miss Aitken launched the investigation into the firm in April following the conclusion of the fatal accident inquiry and the subsequent VOSA inspection.

Many of the alleged problems found by inspectors stemmed from the trucking side of the business, which operates alongside the cranes.

She questioned crane firm bosses over various issues including drivers’ hours, tachograph offences, unauthorised use of an operating centre, false statements, good repute, and professional competence.

Miss Aitken curtailed the company’s operator’s licence from four vehicles to two for a period of three months.

She found sub-standard practices in vehicle defect reporting, roadworthiness checks, and record keeping.

Manager ‘too busy’ for role

At a hearing in Aberdeen in April the firm’s transport manager, Douglas Reid, claimed that he had been unable to fulfil his full management duties as up to 85 per cent of his time was taken up with his health and safety role at the firm.

Today Mr Reid was warned as to his repute and professional competence.

Miss Aitken said: “Sufficient personnel were not deployed in the transport or other functions, leaving Mr Reid too thinly spread to do the transport side properly.

“In respect of Mr Reid, he fully acknowledged that he had fallen down on his responsibilities. That is to the good that he has that insight.

“I do not find against his repute and professional competence - I am satisfied that to do so would be disproportionate but I warn him that he must never ever get into the position again whereby he is too stretched to do a safety critical role such as that of transport manager.”

Since the tragedy, Mrs Copeland’s husband Barry, from Johnshaven, has been campaigning for road safety rules to be changed after he discovered that cranes and other machinery did not require to have an MoT test before going on the road.