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October 7, 2011

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£144,000 to pay after “tragic death” of worker in jammed press

A County Durham car-components manufacturer has been fined £100,000 after a maintenance engineer was crushed to death whilst clearing a jam on a production line.

Paul Clark, 52, a multi-skilled fitter at Tallent Automotive, died on 8 July 2009 after becoming trapped between a moving carriage and the support structure at the end of its tracks while working alone in an isolated area of the plant.

Durham Crown Court heard on 30 September that Mr Clark had been working in the press shop of the company’s Newton Aycliffe plant, which manufactures parts for the car industry.

The Court was told that a de-stacker – a pneumatically-powered carriage that is part of a large, 2500-tonne press, which produces chassis components – had jammed and stopped halfway along its tracks. The carriage was used to move empty magazines previously containing metal blanks away from the press. Mr Clark had been attempting to find the fault with the pneumatics and had opened the interlocked safety gates to gain access inside the fenced enclosure of the machine.

However, although opening these gates isolated the equipment from the electricity supply, it did not isolate the pneumatic power element of the machine. Moreover, the equipment for controlling movement of the carriage was located between the tracks the carriage ran on, which meant Mr Clark had to work in an extremely dangerous area to try to establish the cause of the jam. He was trapped when the de-stacker moved suddenly and died as a result of traumatic asphyxia due to crush injuries.

Martin Baillie, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, told SHP there had been no safe procedures for carrying out work within the de-stacker area. Although electrical hazards were recognised by the company, risks from the pneumatically-operated equipment were not.

The inspector said: “This tragic death could have been avoided had the company put in place a safe system of work that ensured that risks from all energy sources had been identified and made safe before employees could gain access to the enclosure where the equipment was located.

“It is vitally important that safe isolation procedures are developed and used before attempting to make repairs to equipment.

“In this instance, Tallent Automotive instead relied on the training and experience of individuals. This was a significant cause of the incident that led to Mr Clark’s death.”

The inspector concluded: “This is an engineering company. They should know about these things. They had the expertise and knowledge, but did not recognise the hazards associated with the de-stacker being pneumatically energised. Other workers also routinely enter the enclosure, so they too were at risk.”

The firm said in mitigation that the company who had manufactured the de-stacker unit had gone out of business during the machine’s installation. Consequently, Tallent had not received the pneumatic drawings, information and documentation that would have informed its risk assessment and which it would have been able to give to workers to show how the pneumatic supply worked and how they could safely make any necessary adjustments.

Tallent said took safety very seriously, had a good safety record and employed a full-time health and safety manager. It has since adapted the equipment so that nothing like this can happen again.

Tallent Automotive was fined £100,000 after pleading guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure its employees’ safety. The company was also ordered to pay a contribution to costs of £44,000.

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