Boss warned of health and safety ‘failings’ before worker crushed to death at Barking industrial estate, court hears

Han Rao outside Barkingside Magistrates' Court at a previous hearing. Picture: Jon King

Han Rao outside Barkingside Magistrates' Court at a previous hearing. Picture: Jon King - Credit: Archant

A boss was warned about health and safety “failings” before his worker was crushed to death under window panes, a court has heard.

Han Rao appeared at the Old Bailey on Monday, January 20 charged with manslaughter by gross negligence following the death of warehouseman Marian Iancu at the premises of the Chinese national's Barking based storage firm, TLW (UK) Ltd.

Andrew Thomas QC, opening, said Mr Rao was "clueless", doing nothing to find out what his health and safety responsibilities were.

"What makes it worse is the defendant was warned about his failings," Mr Thomas added.

Mr Rao, 34, from Deptford, denies unlawfully killing his employee and breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. TLW (UK) Ltd denies failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.

Jurors heard that on November 16, 2015, Mr Iancu and a colleague were breaking up large glass panels weighing 200kg each meant for The Leadenhall Building but rejected due to damage.

Mr Iancu was crushed between two panes and a fork lift truck after they toppled onto him when he went to untie them.

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He suffered seven fractured ribs, fractured breastbone, bruising, ruptured heart lining as well as damage to a major heart vein, his liver and spleen.

The court heard the 39-year-old Romanian national died of suffocation at the scene.

Mr Thomas said: "Han Rao had left his employees to get on with it and do the job as best they saw fit without any thought for health and safety.

"These failings ran throughout the defendant's operation and were direct cause of Mr Iancu's death. The negligence involved was shockingly bad."

Mr Rao should have inspected the frames - arranged in a way compared by Mr Thomas to trying to balance a 2p piece on its edge - and identified the risk they would topple over, jurors heard.

Mr Rao, who took over TLW (UK) Ltd from a friend in 2014, is to argue he told the two warehousemen not to do the job and was unaware they had carried on with the work against his instructions.

The court heard before the incident Mr Rao was a self-employed contractor working at South Bank Tower part time for Chinese firm Yuanda, which produces skyscraper facades.

He took over TLW (UK) Ltd at no cost in July 2014 from a friend returning to China.

Mr Thomas said: "[It was a] one man band company, pretty much everything the company did was done by Han Rao."

In summer 2015, Mr Rao rented warehouse space in Renwick Road after reaching a verbal agreement with Yuanda to store materials for them.

Mr Rao recruited Mr Iancu on £350 per week.

On starting, Mr Iancu did a refresher course in fork lift truck driving, but this was the only formal training Mr Rao provided, the court heard.

Yuanda had a logistics manager based at TLW (UK) Ltd, but Mr Rao alone was legally responsible for the warehousemen's safety.

But jurors heard he was "woefully unqualified" to be a manager with "no real knowlegde" of his obligations.

There was no evidence Mr Rao did risk assessments about the Yuanda contract's hazards, even though Yuanda had identified risk of death or serious injury in their own prior risk assessment. Yuanda had concluded it was a job for five or six men, jurors heard.

When a Yuanda manager, Dong Zhou Xiang, visited the site he identified Mr Iancu as a "hard worker" focused on the task but not his health and safety.

Mr Xiang told Mr Rao that health and safety standards were "not good enough", telling him to get advice and

warn Mr Iancu to take care.

On the day Mr Iancu died, Ralf Rotelle, a senior installation manager at Yuanda, was on site to collect gaskets when he spotted the warehousemen doing the work, warning them it wasn't safe.

Mr Rotelle complained to Mr Rao the men were ill equipped and shouldn't be doing the job. However, Mr Rao only told the workers to be careful, the court heard.

The trial continues.