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May 1, 2014

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Sweet company fined £120,000 following worker’s ‘horrific injury’

A national sweet manufacturer has appeared in court after the fork on a forklift truck pierced a worker’s foot, entering the instep and exiting the bridge, breaking every bone in its path. Following the incident, an HSE investigation found that this was one of three collisions in the same location at the factory within a three-month period.

Kevin Lowe, 48, suffered life-changing injuries in the incident at Tangerine Confectionery Ltd in Blackpool on 19 September 2012, and is now only able to walk short distances with the use of a stick. His injury will affect him for the rest of his life and he is unable to return to work or to drive.

The company was prosecuted by the HSE and appeared at Preston Crown Court this week (28 April).

It was heard that Mr Lowe, from Blackpool, had been driving a ride-on pallet truck in a warehouse at Tangerine Confectionery’s Vicarage Lane plant, and was manoeuvring the vehicle very close to the entrance because of a lack of space inside.

He was injured when another worker drove through the plastic strip curtains that hung down over the entrance, and the two vehicles collided.

Mr Lowe was rushed to Blackpool Victoria Hospital where surgeons initially thought they would have to amputate his foot. He spent nine days in hospital and his foot was eventually saved using large screws.

The court was told the plastic curtains over the entrance were designed to keep out insects and birds, but they obscured the view of workers going into the warehouse.

The area had also been overcrowded with pallets from two other warehouses while maintenance work was being carried out, which restricted the space drivers had to operate vehicles and increased the flow of traffic.

The HSE investigation heard that Mr Lowe had also been involved in a collision at the same entrance a few weeks earlier, suffering minor bruising, and there was another collision a couple of days after the September incident. On all of these occasions, restricted vision through the curtains was given as a cause by the drivers involved.

Tangerine Confectionery Ltd was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £9,538 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Michael Mullen, said: “Mr Lowe has suffered a horrific injury that will affect him for life because Tangerine Confectionery failed to implement effective traffic management at its Vicarage Lane warehouse.

“The company introduced physical hazards onto route ways without assessing their effects, and the result can best be described as chaotic. The fact that there were three collisions in just three months in the same spot shows this wasn’t just a one off incident but something that was almost inevitable.

“Employees had raised concerns about restricted vision when driving through the plastic curtains and the overcrowding in the area, but the management team ignored these concerns.

“The company has since made changes to the layout of the warehouse and systems of work including the installation of proximity alarms, clearly marked traffic routes, better supervision and a new dispatch system. If these had been in place at the time of the incident then the injuries suffered by Mr Lowe could have been avoided.”

In mitigation, the company, who said it “deeply regretted” the accident, has removed the plastic curtains and changed its systems so vehicles and pedestrians can move safely around the site.

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