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November 24, 2009

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Director criticised for “slap-dash” approach to safety

A worker was injured while trying to clear debris off an unguarded conveyor a year after the worker he replaced had his arm amputated following an almost replica incident. The director of the tyre-shredding company that employed the two men has now been fined £60,000 after a judge told him he had sought to cut costs for profit.

Northampton Crown Court heard that Paul James was director of James Environmental Ltd when both incidents occurred at the firm’s premises in Islip, Northamptonshire.

The first incident took place on August 26 2006 when an employee of James, Zeke Mabbutt, was cleaning an unguarded roller on a conveyer belt, which was positioned underneath a tyre-shredding machine. Mr Mabbutt inserted his hand between the belts on the conveyor to scoop out rubber debris, which was sticking to the machine’s rollers. The device was still running, and his hand was pulled in by the belt and crushed as it was forced around the roller.

One of his colleagues reversed the machine, enabling Mr Mabbutt to free himself, and he was subsequently taken to hospital. His injuries were so severe that he had to have his right arm amputated from below the shoulder, and he was unable to return to work for two years.

On 29 August, the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice, which ordered the company to install guards on the conveyor, and repair guards on two other conveyors.

The second incident happened on 3 October 2007 and involved Mr Mabbutt’s replacement, Danny Bedford. On this occasion Mr Bedford was also clearing tyre debris from the conveyor and had put his hand in a gap between the machine’s guard and the side of the conveyor. He had seen Mr James and other colleagues remove debris from the belt in this manner but, as he reached inside the machine, he caught his glove on some debris and his arm was pulled into the roller. He was able to free himself but suffered a broken arm and serious tendon and nerve damage. He is still receiving treatment for his injuries and has been unable to return to work.

HSE Principal Inspector Neil Craig said: “Paul James’ blatant disregard for health and safety has had disastrous consequences for these two young men. You would think that after Mr Mabbutt’s accident he would have made absolutely sure that it would not happen again. But 14 months later, Mr Bedford was injured in almost exactly the same way.

“As managing director, Paul James was instrumental in both of these incidents. For this reason HSE took the decision to prosecute him as an individual rather than proceed against his company.”

Paul James put the company into voluntary liquidation three days after the case was committed to the Crown Court. He appeared at a Newton hearing on 10 November and pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching reg.11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, by virtue of s37 of the HSWA 1974. He was fined £30,000 for each offence and ordered to pay £17,500 in costs.

In mitigation, James said he had complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notices and had no previous convictions. He also claimed that Mr Mabbutt was an unreliable witness, as the worker had originally told ambulance staff that his hand had been drawn into the roller after he had tripped on a rake.

James also argued there were no witnesses to Mr Bedford’s accident, and he did not believe he had suffered the injuries in the conveyor. He suggested there would have been damage to Mr Bedford’s fingers if his arm had been pulled around the roller.

In sentencing, Judge Charles Wide QC said: “It is perfectly clear to me from accidents suffered by Mr Mabbutt and Mr Bedford that you had a slap-dash approach to safety. These very serious matters amount to cost-cutting for profit.”

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