A VEHICLE recovery company has been forced to pay out £100,000 after one of its employees was crushed to death under a two-deck car carrier.

John Wallace, 49, was washing the twin deck vehicle in May 2013 when the upper deck suddenly collapsed, trapping him between it and the lower deck. He died of his injuries at the scene.

The vehicle belonged to his employers, Ontime Automative Ltd, based in Waterside Drive, Langley, which has now been fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of a further £50,000.

The company was found guilty of a Health and Safety at Work Act breach in August, after disputing the case, and was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

Mr Wallace was washing the carrier at a base in Hayes at the time of the incident.The manufacturer of the vehicle, J&J Conversions Ltd, had already pleaded guilty to a Health and Safety breach and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,490 on Monday.

Speaking after the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, Stephen Kirton, said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident caused by poor design and the failure to control unsafe practices.

“Any company designing, manufacturing or supplying equipment for use at work must ensure that its safe operation is correctly considered and engineered in, and that foreseeable issues are properly considered.

"Companies should also ensure that employees are correctly trained to use workplace machinery.

"Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

An investigation by the HSE found the carrier was poorly designed by J&J - and Ontime Automotive had failed to control an unsafe practice whereby an incorrect operating method was used to lower the upper deck.

A HSE statement said: "The upper deck, which was designed to fold down onto the lower deck, was only stable in its raised position if it was secured by two powered locking pins.

"It was possible to lower the locking pins if a (remote) control was operated and another device (intended to detect the position of the upper deck) was operated by hand. Correct design would have used a device that could not be operated by hand to detect the position of the upper deck.

"Ontime failed to control this unsafe practice, as a limited number of employees within the company knew how to operate this device.

"J&J Conversions failed to take appropriate measures to remedy the problem even after the upper deck had violently collapsed on a previous occasion when the vehicle was owned by a third party."