West Yorkshire textile firm WE Rawson has been ordered to pay more than GBP115,000 (US$179,902) in fines and costs for safety breaches that led to a worker being crushed and killed by a falling stack of rag bales.

Forklift truck operator James Welka died in hospital hours after the incident at WE Rawson's warehouse in Castle Bank Mills, Wakefield, on 22 February 2010.

He was struck by the top two bales of rags, each weighing more than 300kg, when a column of bales collapsed.

The textile firm was sentenced for a serious breach of safety legislation at Leeds Crown Court in proceedings brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

HSE found that WE Rawson had stacked the rag bales unsafely, using vertical columns, which were inherently unstable, rather than tiered stacking. It had failed to consider the risks posed by the unstable columns to employees walking around the warehouse, and failed to put effective measures in place to control the pedestrian activities around the warehouse.

"This tragic incident could have been avoided had WE Rawson taken its duty of care toward its employees sufficiently seriously," said HSE inspector Geoff Fletcher.

"The sad consequence of the company's failures is an unnecessary loss of life and the devastating impact this has had on Mr Welka's partner, family and friends.

"The company was aware that the rag bales were unstable as there was a history of them collapsing. There were simple and straightforward steps that could have been taken to ensure that the stability of the bales did not present a risk to pedestrian workers in the warehouse area. Those measures were not taken."