Five agency workers at a metal recycling site were crushed to death when a 45-tonne wall of a storage area holding 263 tonnes of metal briquettes collapsed, a health and safety trial has heard.
Birmingham Crown Court was told the weight of metal, stored at a scrapyard in the Nechells area of the city, was equivalent to about six fully laden articulated lorries.
Labourers Almamo Jammeh, 45, Ousmane Diaby, 39, Bangally Dukuray, 55, Saibo Sillah, 42, and Mahamadou Jagana, 49, were pronounced dead at the scene in July 2016.
The Health and Safety Executive is prosecuting Birmingham-based firms Ensco 10101 and Hawkeswood Metal Recycling as well as directors Wayne Hawkeswood and Graham Woodhouse for alleged safety failings.
Opening the case on Friday, prosecutor Pascal Bates told jurors: “This case is about whether the defendants should on each count be found guilty of safety failings in respect of a scrapyard – safety failings which led to five men losing their lives.
“Mr Wayne Anthony Hawkeswood was the owner of both companies and he was the managing director of each of them.
“On July 7 2016 a gang of men were at work in the scrapyard and were given the job of clearing out a storage area.”
The court was told the men were working to clear swarf – waste from machining processes – ahead of an incoming load of scrapped aero engines.
Mr Bates added: “The bay which was to be cleared was one of a row of four along the southern side of the site.”
Bay four contained swarf, the court heard, while the adjacent bay 3 was “filled” with around 263 tonnes of machine-pressed, can-shaped metal briquettes, each weighing around 4kg.
All those killed were originally from west Africa and held either Spanish or Portuguese passports.
Describing the collapse, Mr Bates told the court: “At just after 8.34 that morning, some 15 minutes after the agency workers first go to bay four, the wall between bays three and four topples over into bay four.
“It fell as a complete ‘slate’ – a 45-tonne wall has been pushed over by 263 tonnes of briquettes into the neighbouring bay.
“The experts are agreed that the wall was very close to toppling over.”
The court heard that an expert who assessed the site believed that rain falling on the briquettes, or a gust of wind, could have prompted the wall to collapse.
Mr Bates added: “The prosecution say that whatever straw broke the camel’s back is neither here nor there.
“The wall was decidedly unsafe in its state and no one should have been working anywhere near it.”
Those killed had died immediately, the court heard.
Mr Bates said a sixth worker suffered a broken leg, another escaped injury after stepping outside the bay, while a supervisor sustained cuts and bruises in a mini digger after its cab shielded him.
Ensco 10101 denies failing to discharge a duty to a person other than an employee in July 2016, and failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees.
Hawkeswood Metal Recycling has pleaded not guilty to a charge alleging that it failed in its duty to those not in its employment, and a second count relating to the safety of employees.
Managing director Hawkeswood and site operations manager Woodhouse, both of Riverside Works, Trevor Street, Nechells, have each pleaded not guilty to four charges under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, including allegations that an “offence was committed with your consent or connivance or was attributable to your neglect”.
The court heard that Woodhouse, 55, was working on July 7 2016, while 52-year-old Hawkeswood was on the first day of a foreign holiday.
The trial continues, and is expected to run for eight weeks.