Evidence of Ronald Stallard, Stallion Plant Services  

P – In 1998 you were a director of Stallion Plant Services Ltd., a company formed by you 25 years ago?

RS – Yes.

P – You have been in the business for 50 years and the business included testing, advice and certification of lifting equipment, crane and beam testing etc. You have tested over 1300 cranes, beams, excavators etc.?

RS – Yes.

P – From 1993 you dealt with Euromin?

RS – Yes.

P – Sometimes you would go to Euromin yourself and at other times one of your employees would go there?

RS – Yes.

P – You carried out repairs to lifting gear?

RS – Yes.

P – Did you service the machines?

RS – No they were not our concern.

P – Lifting gear, chains etc. they were your concern?

RS – Yes.

P – You advised on webbing slings versus chain?

RS – Slings were manmade fibre, polyester and the chains grade 80 steel.

P – You met Mr Martell?

RS – Only on one occasion.

P – Was Euromin a valued customer?

RS – Yes over the last 5 years there business was worth on average £750 a year to us. It was always welcome.

P – Is Euromin still a customer of yours?

RS – Yes.

P – In February 1998 were you contacted by Euromin to collect some chain slings to be altered that had been rejected by statutory inspection in January 1998?

RS – Yes.

P – So did you go to Euromin on 5 th February 1998 to collect the chain slings?

RS – Yes.

P – Did you meet Martell and Grant?

RS – Yes.

P – Did Martell ask you to look at something?

RS – Yes the grab attachment. They were presently using web slings round the grab. Martell could see a safer and easier way to use the excavator by welding hooks on to the grab. We agreed to supply two of these hooks.

P – I'd like to clarify the older system. There were webbing slings over the yoke and the yoke goes across at the bottom of the stem?

RS – Yes.

P – Can you indicate that on photo 17?

RS – The vertical bit and the horizontal bit holds the 2 sides of the grab apart.

P – Did you see the old system in action?

RS – No.

P – It was explained to you verbally?

RS – Yes. Obviously if the straps are wrapped over horizontally, it takes longer and its difficult attaching the bags. It was necessary to use a “D” shackle to get the sides equal length and that wastes a lot of time.

P – The system they were using was unsuitable?

RS – Yes.

P – Who explained the old system to you?

RS – I honestly can't remember. Grant or Martell; I think it was Martell.

P – So the time taken to wrap the webbing was a concern to Martell?

RS – He was concerned on both counts – safety and speed.

P – Why was the old system unsafe?

RS – If the lengths are not equal there is a shock wave when the load is pulled that goes right through the webbing.

P – Could the bags ever be lifted safely?

RS – There is no suggestion that the old system was unsafe. I concluded that as there had been no problems for years, it was not something of terrible importance.

P – I understood that this wasn't a safety consideration?

RS – It was simpler, it was safer, it was quicker. It's not right to say that one was more important than another.

P – Your suggestion was?

RS – Two hooks welded to balance one another.

P – Welded near the three silver bits?

RS – Yes.

P – In the previous system were the jaws of the grab open or closed?

RS – As I recall it wasn't mentioned. I understand the grab would have been open. If it had been shut, the cutting edge would have been against the chains or slings hanging under the grab. There was no suggestion of them being on the outside.

P – In the new system was the grab open or closed?

RS – Open.

P – Why do you understand that?

RS – If it was closed, anything inside could be cut. If it was open, you could cut off the locking valve so that the grab couldn't close.

P – Was the shutting of the valve mentioned?

RS – No. We didn't go into graphics or drawings. It was a quick conversation, “What do you think of this?”

P – Did you notice the valves when you were on a visit to Euromin?

RS – Yes. They were working right; I tested the grab and the valves. The testing was done a year after the accident.

P – How long did it take to shut the valve off?

RS – I went up a ladder and couldn't move it. Then a colleague used a bit of strength and shifted it. It took about five minutes.

P – Was this with the arm on the quay side?

RS – Yes.

P – When you are dealing with lifting gear attached to appliances, there are rules on safe maximum loads?

RS – Yes.

P – How important is it for there to be a secure fixing point for the lifting gear on the appliance.

RS – Very important. It must be firm and stable.

P – If there is not a secure fixing point the dangers are obvious?

RS – Yes. Excavators can be used as cranes but only if there is a secure point of lifting.

P – Was that in your mind when you suggested welding the hooks?

RS – Yes. I considered the risk assessment; what you put on the grab must be out of the way when moving loose material. The hook must be well up out of the way to avoid contamination.

P – Is a secure lifting point the only aspect of safety in the work place?

RS – It's more complicated than that but a secure lifting point is a starting place.

P – Were you told that Euromin had the proper hook attachment provided by Liebherr?

RS – No.

P – Had you ever operated the Liebherr excavator?

RS – I have tested a number of them; I may well have, but I don't operate them all day.

P – Were you aware of the sensitivity of the controls in the cab?

RS – I didn't operate the controls in the cab.

P – Were you aware of the safety instructions from Liebherr?

RS – No. It didn't arise.

P – Have you ever seen an excavator operated as a lifting mechanism?

RS – Not before the accident.

P – Did Martell come back to you and say, “I don't think your place for hooks is good; I'll put them lower.”

RS – No, I was unaware of where they were until after the 24 th April.

P – On 8 th February 1998 you supplied two webbing slings separate from the hooks?

RS – Yes.

P – Did you offer to test the hooks at the time of your visit?

RS – No. Martell said he would get a local company to weld them. Construction lifting operations regulations says the hooks need not be tested but in my opinion they should have been.

P – You have a test certificate for the hooks?

RS – Yes. Supplied to us in November 1997.

P – When were they tested?

RS – The manufacturer tested them when they were supplied.

J – What sort of test would be done?

RS – You put a proof load onto the hooks equal to twice the safe working load but that is to test the weld not the hooks.

P – It mentions a “bucket” on the document, what does this mean?

RS – A bucket is different from a clam shell, but it means the same thing according to different people's usage of it.

P – You understood on 5 th February 1998 what was to be suspended from the hooks?

RS – Yes. Chains.

P – Was there any discussion on the actual chains, which would be used?

RS – No it had already been discussed. They already had the chains, which were satisfactory.

P – You regularly supplied chains to Euromin?

RS – Yes.

P – You knew the length of the chains?

RS – I knew the ones he had were three metres, which would be long enough. No-one would be in a position of danger.

P – Is this your area of expertise – people working under an open grab?

RS – You don't unless you are absolutely certain the thing isn't going to move.

P – Had you ever asked to see the new system in operation?

RS – No.

P – Can the chains easily be shortened?

RS – Yes, by using a shortening hook.

P – Is this commonly done?

RS – Yes.

P – Is this is what is shown in photos 17 and 18?

RS – Yes. The chain runs through and is looped round to shorten it.

P – Could you look at page 122. Were you familiar with this document in February 1998?

RS – Yes but it has since been revoked.

P – On page 124 it refers to a certificate of exemption.

RS – This is for when an excavator is used as a crane. It must have a lifting point and check valves.

P – On page 122, paragraph 2 we are told that you can only use an excavator as a crane in limited circumstances. e.g. The excavator can only be used in this way when the work is directly concerned with excavation as when lifting pipes into trenches. It would not apply for example to unloading a lorry. Does your company give safety consultancy advice?

RS – Yes. In certain circumstances but we charge for it.

P – You have not been in business for 50 years for nothing Mr Stallard!

RS – We never charge for advice; if we do it's consultancy. We are careful to advise if something is safe but against the law or unsafe but within the law. Only I, no other staff do consultations. We get asked on law and we are careful with this.

P – You charged Euromin for safety consultancy?

RS – No. The list price for hooks etc. No other charge.

P – Have Euromin ever asked you for safety consultancy or advice?

RS – No.

P – Did you regard the conversation with Martell as safety consultation?

RS – No. It was a simple question and an automatic answer. Just an ordinary conversation.

 

D– You have had a lifetime's experience in the field?

RS – Yes.

D– Your Company is an appropriate place to seek advice with regard to lifting and safety?

RS – Yes.

D– On the 5 th of February 1998 if there was an easier or safer way of lifting?

RS – Yes.

D– Your advice was sought?

RS – Correct.

D – You gave advice?

RS – Yes, my opinion was taken up.

D – Your advice was to weld 2 hooks to part of the grab?

RS – Yes, a particular part of the grab.

D – You envisaged bags on hooks, lifted out of the ship and the grab would necessarily be open.

RS – Yes.

D – You saw nothing wrong in that?

RS – They said they had been doing it for years: there was no need to go into doubts in one's mind.

D – You had in mind guidance note 122. You interpreted paragraph 2 (b) as prohibiting the use of the machine if there was no lifting point?

RS – Yes.

D – Your advice to Euromin was given with the view to ensuring it complied with the guidance note?

RS – Yes. I think it did.

D – You didn't think it infringed statutory regulations?

RS – No. That's another contentious point.

D – On photo 17, that's where you said to weld the hooks?

RS – Sorry but that's incorrect.

D – You said you wanted them higher; but that would have fouled the hydraulic pipes. So where you would have had them is much higher up?

RS – Yes.

D – I suggest you are wrong about that. From a safety point of view they would be better lower.

RS – Sorry you are wrong. Hooks can come adrift if contaminated with sand, gravel etc.

D – The men hooking the bags on would be further away from the grab if the hooks were lower down.

RS – But the grab mustn't close when someone is there!

D – Did you carry out a risk assessment?

RS – No but I made sure where I said to put the hooks didn't infringe any part of the movement.

D – The possibility of the grab closing with men under it didn't occur to you?

RS – It must have occurred to everybody.

D – It never occurred to you that the grab could close with the men in range?

RS – No. Of course if it had that would be a different ball game.

D – It would never occur to you that a competent operator could close the grab?

RS – No. With the shut off valves closed the grab wouldn't operate.

D – You didn't know about the shut off valves?

RS – Yes I did.

D – You have never mentioned them before today.

RS – Yes I have; in briefings in our company.

D – I put it to you have never mentioned them. In previous documents, HSE interviews and statement summary they are not mentioned.

J – I am not happy on the use of the summary. The summary may not be accurate. It is alright if he sees his exact words.

D – There are some notes signed by you.

P – It is a proper question if the witness is asked if he ever said X or Y. If he denies it, prior inconsistency may be proved.

D – The witness never mentioned the existence of shut off valves before today.

J – We can't deal with that without the document going to the jury as an exhibit.

 

There was a brief adjournment for 20 minutes.

 

D – What is the yoke? Can you show us on photo 17?

RS – It is the centre column.

D – Does it extend to where you said to put the hook?

RS – Yes it's all part of the same casting.

D – That is still the yoke above the hydraulic pipes?

RS – Yes up to the attachment point.

D – Going to previous statements you have made. I purpose to demonstrate that when you gave advice there was certainly no mention of shut off valves. Do you agree?

RS – Yes.

D – Further I suggest that this was something that had not occurred to you.

RS – Sorry but I had handled these valves myself.

D – You said the system you suggested was safe and legal because it never occurred to you that the crane driver would inadvertently close the grab when anyone was in a position of danger.

RS – Yes. I agree.

D – Then you must agree you didn't think the grab would be isolated?

RS – Anyone using the excavator as a crane would shut it off.

J – With the valves shut off the driver couldn't do anything inadvertently?

RS – Euromin must have known what the valves were for.

D – I suggest the possibility of using valves has never been mentioned by you to anyone.

RS – Looking in the file, so far I haven't seen it. There is the possibility it did occur to me. It is commonly used in other machines.

D – I suggest you told Miss Barringer, “The use of such methods is quite common. I see no problem with the system of work. The grab can only close if operated by the driver and the chains are long enough that the grab should be clear of the slingers.”

RS – The driver is in control. That's what I said. Yes.

P – Could you read the previous sentence?

RS – It is common for people to lift weights with the grab attached. I can't think of many places that take the grab off. The grab weighs 2.5 tonnes. The safe lifting load of the excavator is 6.5 tonnes. Therefore the machine can pick up 4 tonnes. It's normal for excavators like 360s etc to be used with chains attached to the bucket.

D – You didn't mention valves to Miss Barringer.

RS – No but you are using bits and pieces put together taken out of context.

D – You lecture on safety do you?

RS – Yes.

 

The court was adjourned for lunch until 2.05pm. When court resumed, at the request of jury Mr O'Connor Q.C. gave a second reading of the statements of Mr Russell (Jim) Harris. At 2.30pm Mr Stallard took the witness stand again.

 

D – You cleared up the misunderstanding with Miss Barringer about the grab closing automatically?

RS – Yes.

D – All this is commenting on the system being used without the valves being shut off.

RS – That is taking it out of context. To suggest I was unaware of the valves is erroneous and I object to it. I admit my statement makes no mention of valves. I knew after the “accident” that it wasn't locked off. The excavator has no finesse of control. It's very jumpy. With proper cranes you can control the movement of the load to the inch.

D – You are now describing safety precautions?

RS – Yes.

D – But you don't mention shut off valves. Have you looked through the notes?

RS – I have looked at the statements and admit I can't find mention of them but I have handled the valves; there are witnesses.

D – At the meeting on 5 th February you made no mention of valves?

RS – Quite possibly.

D – In 4 statements between 1998 and 2001 there is no mention of them.

RS – Possibly but because I didn't write it doesn't mean it wasn't in my mind.

D – You are not trying to cover yourself?

RS – I've got nothing to cover sir!

D – Mr Martell asked you for advice on a safer system?

RS – Yes.

D – You recommended fitting hooks?

RS – That was safer than it was previously.

D – What Euromin did was to adopt the advice of you, a specialist.

RS – My advice was something a damn sight safer than it was before. The operator shouldn't close the grab without a definite blatant signal from the banksman.

D – When you suggested the system you clearly didn't assume the use of the shut off valves.

RS – I was influenced by the fact that nothing had happened in previous years.

D – In your written witness statement of 14 th June 1999 you say, “ The previous system had been carried out for many years in the industry….” You don't say provided that the shut off valve was used.

RS – No, I don't say that. There's lots of things you wish you'd said when someone starts picking holes in it.

D – You are not doing this to deflect criticism from yourself?

RS – No sir!

 

P – Regarding your visit in February 1998 you said, “Euromin rang and asked for Mr Lee, the sales representative to call. He'd retired so I went and saw Mr Grant and the managing director.” Is this accurate?

RS – No.

P – Did Euromin ask to see you?

RS – No, for Mr Lee.

P – Did Euromin expect to see you or did you just turn up?

RS – I just turned up.

P – Did Euromin give any notice of what they wanted? Did they ask before you arrived, “We've got this issue we need help with, can you advise?”

RS – No just, “Could you pop down?”

P – How long did the meeting last?

RS – About 10 minutes.

P – You say they'd used exactly the same system for years without incident?

RS – Yes.

P – With the grab open?

RS – Yes, unless you put the chains over the outside, but that's nonsensical it gives added instability.

P – Did Martell tell you the previous system was used with the chains outside?

RS – No.

P – Did Martell say, “the first time we used the jaws of the grab open”?

RS – It wasn't mentioned.

P – When you said, “We were never responsible for giving safety advice to this customer nor is any conversation to be regarded as a consultancy.” Is this accurate?

RS – Yes.

P – If it had been a consultancy you would have confirmed that in writing?

RS – Yes.

P – If you had been aware of risk of injury, would you have suggested hooks?

RS – Of course not.

P – Were you given the opportunity to assess the operation of the system?

RS – No. It didn't arise.

P – There was no discussion of the use of the proper lifting hook?

RS – No.

P – Did you know they had one?

RS – No.

P – You said, “Lugs are attached by some manufacturers to excavators now.”

RS – Yes and they can only be used with the bucket on.

P – A bucket is an attachment that is always open; a grab can close?

RS – Yes.

P – You refer to a common method of working. How common is it for a lug to be fitted to a permanently open bucket?

RS – Quite common, lugs can be attached in different positions.

P – Have you ever seen lugs on a clam shell grab?

RS – Yes.

P – Where were they attached?

RS – Different places according to the purpose, generally along the stem of the bucket.

P – Have you seen this system in operation?

RS – Yes.

P – With the grab open or closed?

RS – You can't close the grab; it would snap the chains.

P – Where have you seen the system used?

RS – Scrap yards, Newhaven, Winchester, Jordan's metal merchants. The question has caught me unawares. I've written to HSE for clarification. They say the old construction and lifting regulations have been revoked. I want to know if we should do what we've done in the past.

P – It was suggested in evidence that where you suggested to place the hooks was untrue.

RS – I said right at the top. 7 feet from ground level with the grab open on the quayside.

P – Are you sure?

RS – Yes. I showed sergeant Bartlett. He reached up on tiptoe.

 

J – In your conversation you said you noticed valves were fitted?

RS – Yes.

J – Do some excavators not have valves?

RS – Yes, a lot.

J – If you'd seen no valves, would you have approved fitting the hooks?

RS – How did they get on so long with an incorrect system? I wouldn't necessarily have said you can't do it.