Waste management firm Valencia has been fined £3m after two lorry drivers died in separate incidents.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the deaths of Michael Atkin and Mark Wheatley and subsequently prosecuted Valencia, formerly known as Viridor Waste Management.

Atkin, a 63-year-old HGV driver employed by RT Keedwell, died while collecting waste paper bales at Valencia’s Earls Barton site in October 2019.

He was working with a Valencia employee who was using a forklift truck to load Atkin’s lorry with the bales.

The HSE said that while loading a fourth row, some bales in the third row were dislodged and fell from the vehicle, fatally crushing the driver. Each bale weighed at least 820kg.

An HSE investigation found it was not custom and practice at Valencia for bales to be loaded onto lorries by fork lift truck operators at the same time the lorry driver was strapping bales which had previously been loaded onto the lorry flatbed.

Systems were in place for drivers to remain within their cabs, or in some other safe location away from the loading activity, but this was not adhered to at the time of the incident.

Agency driver Wheatley, 31, died in January 2020 while loading skips onto his lorry.

The skips were not compatible as they were of different dimensions and the HSE said they fell at an angle onto the back of the lorry.

Wheatley got onto the lorry bed to rectify the situation but the skips overbalanced and fatally struck him.

An HSE investigation into this incident found Valencia had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment into skip operations meaning that safe systems of work and appropriate training were not implemented and skips were not maintained in an efficient state.

Wheatley's mother Sue said in a statement presented to the court: “Every single night as soon as I close my eyes, I see Mark lying crushed underneath the skip dead or dying. When we arrived at the scene we were held back by the police and so I couldn’t get close to him and couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive.

“That image is what I see every single night when I close my eyes and every single morning before I open my eyes. I shouted out to him that we were there. I will never know if he heard that or not.”

Following the 2019 incident, Valencia pleaded guilty at Loughborough Magistrates’ Court to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act following both incidents and was fined £1m for the 2019 incident and £2m for the 2020 incident.

Alan Hughes, senior enforcement lawyer at the HSE, said: “These were two men at different stages of their lives, but the grief and pain across both families is devastating.

“Both deaths were avoidable. More needs to be done to make the use of vehicles on waste and recycling sites safer.”