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November 10, 2009

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Firm fined GBP 100k for poor machine guarding

A factory worker was crushed to death inside a machine after bypassing an inadequate interlock system.

Butcher’s Pet Care Ltd appeared at Northampton Crown Court on 5 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £28,380 in costs.

In October, SHP reported that the firm’s operations director, Philip Thompson, was fined £10,000 for failing to take effective measures as a director to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery. Thompson was personally responsible for site safety at the factory.

The court heard that John O’Connor was operating a palletiser machine, which stacks cans of pet food into several rows on wooden pallets, when the incident took place on 7 November 2003. One of the pallets became misaligned, as it was being fed into the machine, and caused a blockage.

Mr O’Connor was able to bypass the interlock system, which was supposed to prevent access to the blocked area, owing to a gap in the fencing. As he removed the blockage, the machine re-started, causing the device’s hoist to rise, and trapped his chest against a steal beam at the top of the machine. He suffered serious crush injuries and died from asphyxiation.

The HSE visited the site and issued a Prohibition Notice on the machine for inadequate guarding. The inspector also issued a separate Prohibition Notice on an identical machine, which was missing keys that activate the interlock system.

HSE inspector Neil Craig said: “This was far from being an isolated incident. The unfenced gap between the stair rails had been there for nearly two years and it had become common practice for employees to nip through it to fix problems on the machine in an effort to keep the production line running, anyone of whom could have suffered the same fate as Mr O’Connor.”

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had cooperated with the investigation. It has subsequently made repairs to both machines to ensure that a safe interlock system is in place.

A statement from the company said: “Butcher’s Pet Care was prepared for the fine. However, the safety of our staff remains our utmost priority and we would like, once again, to express our sympathy to Mr O’Connor’s family, friends and colleagues. We hope that the decision will give them some closure on the tragic incident.”

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