A TESCO worker was dismissed from his job for allegedly driving a small tow-truck type vehicle "flat out" at its top speed of 10kmh through a company warehouse, an Employment Appeals Tribunal has been told.
Onder Ates (34), of Lotts Lane, Lower Liffey Street, Dublin, claims he was unfairly dismissed by Tesco in August 2010 following the incident at the company's distribution warehouse in Donabate on July 28 that year.
The company claims he had previously received two final written warnings over health and safety issues and had been driving his LLOP machine – a low-level order picker with cages in tow – "flat out" at around 10kmh when it struck one of the aisles.
The company said it was a "wilful failure" to comply with health and safety regulation.
Following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, he was dismissed from his job in August 2010. Tesco section manager Colm Cloake described the distribution centre as a "little village of machines" and one of the largest warehouses of its type in Europe. At any one time 100 machines could be operating in any of the more than 100 aisles and each LLOP had a top operating speed of 10kmh.
He said he saw Mr Ates taking the corner of the aisle at speed without slowing down. One of the cages being towed by the LLOP "whacked" the structure and came off the vehicle.
Asked what should have been a safe speed to negotiate the turn, Mr Cloake said a driver would probably need to reduce speed to 5kmh to turn safely.
He approached Mr Ates with the intention of issuing him with a penalty point for unsafe driving – which would trigger a health and safety investigation – and asked him for his penalty point card, but Mr Ates refused to hand it over.
"He was aggressive in his tone and body language and was waving his arms. He became very irate and drove off," said Mr Cloake, who subsequently reported the incident to his shift manager.
Shift manager Stephen Delaney said Mr Ates had come to his attention on a number of previous occasions. He previously issued Mr Ates a final written warning in 2009 after he intentionally tried to cover up with paint some scratches on an LLOP.
This was in breach of health and safety policy in which any damage to a machine must be reported. By doing what he did, Mr Ates had also been in breach of Tesco's honesty policy because he denied the incident.
Tesco depot manager Michael Kelly, who investigated the incident and who ultimately issued the dismissal notice, said Mr Ates had been before him on a number of health and safety related issues.
Graham Macken of Siptu, who represented Mr Ates, remarked that his client had been issued a final written warning for in effect "touching up" one or two scratches.
"You make it sound very innocuous but what he was doing was extremely dangerous," Mr Kelly replied.
If that damage had not been detected by the company, the relevant manager would not know whether any other damage had been caused to racking in the warehouse, which could potentially fall.
He felt that none of the "messages" about health and safety were getting through to Mr Ates and ultimately he felt he had no choice but to dismiss him.
The hearing will resume on April 19 next.