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May 12, 2010

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Confectionery worker’s head hit with one-tonne force

A worker was left partially blind and deaf following an incident in a conveyor system when he was hit with a tonne force to the head at the Telford factory of Shropshire chocolate egg manufacturer Magna Specialist Confectioners.

Shrewsbury Crown Court sentenced the firm to a fine of £75,000 and ordered it to pay full costs of £37,500 on 10 May after it had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing on 9 December 2009 to breaching reg.11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998, by failing to prevent access to dangerous machinery.

The court heard that on 22 February 2007, the 32 year-old employee had been able to gain access to a conveyor system, on which the perspex doors were interlocked electronically, as he and other process technicians knew the relevant security code.

HSE Inspector Guy Dale told SHP: “The mistake the company made was that the process technicians were able to select the speed of the conveyor system and did not have to stop it before gaining access to it. They could choose to defeat the interlocked doors.”

The man sustained serious injuries as he tried to clean up a spillage of blue refrigerant liquid that had leaked from one of the hoses. A routinely oscillating part of the frozen cone section of the conveyor moved across from right to left as it closed a gap of 5cm with a tonne force at the same time as his head entered the machine. Although he was thrown backwards out of the machine rather than being trapped, which would “have inevitably been fatal”, according to the Inspector, he received life threatening injuries and was in a coma for two weeks. He is now permanently blind in his right eye and 50% blind in his left, deaf in his right ear and is unlikely to work again. 

“The company should have risk-assessed the machine adequately to identify this problem, “ added inspector Dale. “The interlock guard should not have been defeatable.”

The Inspector served a Prohibition Notice on the day of the incident while several Improvement Notices were served in subsequent days.

In mitigation, Magna, which had a turnover of £42m last year, said the operative had been to blame and had been trained. There had been a documented system to shut down the conveyor in place. It said it regretted the incident and would have stopped access to the machine if it had been aware of the practice.

Magna had previously been fined £25,000 after being in February 2008 under the same PUWER charge, after an employee had her arm broken on a machine after it was pulled in to a conveyor system and trapped for several minutes.

Inspector Dale said: “An operative should not have been able to get to the dangerous parts of the machine while it was working at full production speed. When the interlocked doors were opened, the production line should have been designed to stop.

“The fine imposed by the Crown Court reflects that there was a previous history cataloguing systemic machinery guarding failures in the company and a lack of risk assessment leaving employees exposed to risk to their health and safety.”

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