1 man, 10 days, 2 injuries to colleagues

In previous posts we’ve featured several cases in which 1 worker suffered 2 accidents (and we’ve already had reports in from our ongoing project extensions of at least 1 case where a worker had 3 accidents). Today we have 2 accidents linked by 1 man – but in both cases the accident happened to someone else.

Huddersfield station, c.1913. The large covered goods shed was the site of both accidents.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps.

The man at the centre of the cases was capstanman JH Robinson, working at Huddersfield station. At the time of the accidents – both occurred in May 1911 – the station was operated as a joint concern between 2 companies running services into it as the Lancashire and Yorkshire and London and North Western Joint Railway.

The first accident occurred at 4am on 16 May 1911, and injured John Richard Dunkerley. He was a ‘hooker-on’ – as the name suggests, his role was to couple stock together – and at the time of the accident was aged 22. Robinson and his colleague H Needham were operating a capstan outside the large goods shed, with the intention of drawing a van out into the yard. Robinson called to another capstanman, J Radcliffe, near the van to uncouple it – but Radcliffe’s mate, Dunkerley, heard the request and ‘voluntarily ran to the van and uncoupled it’. However, as he was passing between the van and the platform in the shed, Robinson started the capstan, drawing the van forward and crushing Dunkerley between the van and the wall at the entrance to the shed. As a result, Dunkerley’s collar bone was fractured.

Warning of similar dangers from the LNWR’s 1918 accident prevention booklet.

The accident was investigated by Inspector Amos Ford. Robinson claimed that he heard the distinctive ‘chink’ of the van’s coupling drop (‘indicating that the van had been uncoupled’) and a whistle, ‘which he accepted as a signal that all was right.’ Dunkerley ‘positively denies’ that he gave a signal. Ford saw himself as unable to reconcile the two accounts, but working on the basis that one was true and the other was not. This rather seems to obscure the possibility that both accounts were accurate: Dunkerley might not have given a signal, and yet Robinson might have mistaken a whistle given elsewhere in what was a busy yard.

Instead Ford focused on the fact that ‘Robinson took no steps to ascertain that Dunkerley was clear before he moved the van’. As a result, ‘he must be held primarily, if not alone, responsible for the mishap’ (1911 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

Just 9 days later and there was another accident involving wagons being moved by a capstan operated by Robinson at Huddersfield. On 25 May, at 7.45pm, goods porter George Henry Lorriman was coming to the end of his 12 hour shift. He was tying a sheet over a wagon, which meant ‘he was unfortunately standing with his right side in front of the buffer’ when 2 other wagons on the same line were moved by Robinson: they closed up to the one on which Lorriman was working, crushing him.

The dangers of going between stock as seen in a 1932 accident prevention booklet.

Ford also investigated: he accepted that Robinson didn’t intend to move any of the other wagons on the line, but noted that as a consequence Robinson believed he didn’t need to go along the platform ‘to give proper warning [of the move he was going to make] … to the men then working at the standing waggons’. Rule 112(a) and special instructions specific to this location said that he should have done this; instead Robinson ‘simply called “Look out No. 6” and sound his whistle’ from the shed entrance. Ford found this ‘insufficient warning’ and as a result once again held Robinson responsible (1911 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

Ford didn’t offer any comment as to why Robinson failed to follow due process: was he, too, at the end of his shift and in a rush to get home? Or was he so busy that felt he couldn’t lose the time (for which he would be held responsible by the Company) going down the platform and warning everyone? Or was non-observance of the rules a standard occurrence, which usually had no consequence but on this occasion did? Such questions remain unanswered and, at this distance from the event, unanswerable.

There the report ends. Sometimes inspectors made recommendations for changes or further comments (for example, noting the staff needed to be better trained, to follow the rules, and so on), but Ford didn’t link the two cases explicitly like this. Presumably he investigated both cases in the same trip up to Huddersfield, given the ‘repeat custom’, so this absence is curious. Maybe it was felt that the 2 causes were sufficiently different that although they involved the same man, there was little to be gained in passing further comment. It would also be interesting to know what the Company made of Robinson’s actions – including how it treated him – and whether it took steps to enforce the rules more strictly, though again over 100 years after the event sadly we’re unlikely to find out more.

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