A fractured neck and 15 stitches after working three straight shifts

Court awards man €148,000 for 2005 Freeport accident

The experienced Freeport worker worked too many hours, an expert testified. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The experienced Freeport worker worked too many hours, an expert testified. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A port worker who was badly injured in a workplace accident while working his third consecutive eight-hour shift has been awarded €148,260 in damages

Nazzareno Abela, who at the time was 55 years old and had 21 years of experience working at the Freeport, crashed into a 2ft-high concrete slab while driving a tug master at 5.30am on July 23, 2005. 

Mr Abela hit the brakes, violently knocking his head against an air conditioning unit installed inside the truck cabin. The knock left him concussed, with dislocated bones in his neck, fractures in his neck and back and a wound requiring 15 stitches. 

He was out of work for 11 months following the accident, losing some Lm30,000 in wages and left with a 20 per cent permanent disability. 

Mr Abela filed a suit for damages against his employer, Malta Freeport Terminals Ltd, claiming that they were responsible for the accident since they had not ensured a safe system of work.

Cabin not suited to man's tall frame

The First Hall, Civil Court, presided over by Madam Justice Jacqueline Padovani Grima, heard how the 6ft 2” worker had previously complained about the tug master which he had been ordered to operate at the time of the accident. That particular vehicle was faulty and its design made it unsuitable to his exceptionally tall frame.

Moreover, the stacking area among the containers, where the mishap took place, consisted of a bumpy, slippery terrain, covered with uneven and undulating bricks, made all the worse by the fact that the place was in pitch darkness since lamp posts had been removed.

At the time, only the driver’s cabin was equipped with a braking system - the attached carriage had none. 

Problems subsequently fixed

The court observed that these shortcomings had been addressed after the accident, when the company had invested in new tug masters with a larger cabin, with air conditioning installed in the dashboard and with brakes even in the attached carriage.

Yet, at the time of the accident, the company had not carried out regular inspections and maintenance on the machinery, nor had it drawn up a risk assessment, a court expert reported.

Not only was the model of the tug master not suited to the victim’s tall frame but the man had been asked to work excessive hours by his superiors.

Moreover, not only was the terrain uneven, bumpy and insufficiently lit, but there was no signage or barriers to ward off the danger. Had this been seen to, the consequences of the accident would likely have been less severe, the court observed.

All this showed that Malta Freeport Terminals Ltd had not provided a safe system of work and was therefore solely responsible for the accident for which it was ordered to fork out €148,260.20 by way of damages to the victim.