A “highly respected” 62-year-old truck driver died after a routine skip manoeuvre went “dreadfully wrong”, an inquest has heard.
Georges Le Maistre – an “experienced operator of commercial vehicles” – lost his life in June 2014 after becoming trapped between a granite wall and the wheel of his truck, which had been trying to unload a sand-filled skip at the time.
An inquest into his death was opened in June 2014, but adjourned pending the outcome of investigations by the States’ Health and Safety Inspectorate and Law Officers' Department.
The results of those inquiries were revealed in an inquest presided over by Coroner Mark Harris yesterday, which heard that Mr Le Maistre had died “rapidly” from his injuries.
He had been delivering a 7.16-ton skipload of sand – itself within another, empty skip - to the narrow rear entrance of a St Helier property under renovation, which was further constricted by surrounding scaffolding.
Pictured: Upper Midvale Road, the site of the property's rear entrance. (Photo: Google/Bailiwick Express)
He had reversed the vehicle up the Upper Midvale Road driveway, parking its front wheels onto the concrete drive, and rear wheels onto the patio paving slabs at the back entrance of the converted townhouse. He later descended from the vehicle, and pulled out two supportive struts at the rear of the vehicle – one of which was placed onto a concrete breezeblock.
As Mr Le Maistre moved to the side of the vehicle to operate the skip lifting mechanism, its front wheels raised around three feet off the ground.
A witness then described how the right reinforcement strut then “punch[ed] through the ground, and the cab raised even higher”, tipping the truck to one side.
Alarmed, he “rushed” to the front of the vehicle where he found Mr Le Maistre pinned between the granite wall and the front right wheel of the truck. “He wasn’t breathing and he wasn’t making any noises,” he recalled.
Despite trying to “push it [the wheel] with all [his] might” and the subsequent efforts of his colleagues, Mr Le Maistre was confirmed as having died at the scene by the Emergency Services.
Subsequent investigations by Health and Safety Inspectorate Director Tammy Fage showed that the truck had been operating a load more than twice the recommended safe operational weight, with the overall weight of the two skips and sand totalling 8.13 tons, and that Mr Le Maistre only had an area of 18 inches between the vehicle and wall from which to operate the unloading controls.
The patio paving upon which the rear wheels were parked was found to be “compromised”, although the defects were not obvious from immediate visual surveys.
In her final comments, Mrs Fage offered her “sincere condolences”, adding: “My overriding impression… is that [Mr Le Maistre] was a very highly respected and likable character who will be sadly missed, but who will never be forgotten.”
Mark Harris ruled that Mr Le Maistre’s death was due to severe chest compression (traumatic asphyxiation). He said that it was a tragic accident and but that lessons could be learned. He added that he will be passing his report to the “relevant person or authority who may have the power to prevent future deaths of this nature”.
During the inquest's concluding moments, Mr Le Maistre's wife commented: “I hope no one ever has to experience it… At least, although it’s hard for me… some good has come out of his death.”
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