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November 13, 2009

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Judge slams factory for worker’s “truly horrendous” death

A rice manufacturing company has been fined £140,000 after a factory worker was trapped in a conveyor for several hours before dying of shock.

Balwinder Singh Aulkh, 51, was working as a rice miller at Veetee Rice Ltd’s factory in Rochester, Kent, when the incident took place on 11 September 2006. He was monitoring a rice silo, which contained an underfloor screw conveyor to transport the rice to the production line.

He noticed that the rice was emptying out of the silo at a slower rate than usual, and so entered the silo to check for a blockage. He gained access to the silo through a side door, which should have been locked, and stepped down on to the rice. But his foot sank in the rice and he was dragged into the conveyor.

The worker’s colleagues tried to reverse the conveyor but were unable to free his leg. The emergency services then spent a number of hours trying to free him, but were even forced to amputate his leg at the scene. He subsequently died from shock while being transported to hospital.

The following day the HSE issued a Prohibition Notice, which instructed the firm to prevent access to the silo and another identical silo at the site. HSE Principal Inspector Mike Walters said: “This incident could so easily have been prevented if Veetee Rice Ltd had ensured that a suitable system was in place to prevent access to the silo unless the screw conveyor was electrically isolated.

“If the company had fitted a simple padlock on the access hatch to the rice silo — which could have cost as little as £10 or £15 — then this tragic incident would not have happened.”

Veetee Rice appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on 5 November and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, for failing to install adequate machine guarding. In addition to the fine, it was ordered to pay £20,500 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said that this was an isolated incident and highlighted its previously clean safety record. Since the incident, it has fitted padlocks on to the silos and installed an interlock system, which isolates the moving parts of the machine when the side door is opened.

Judge Carey, who presided over the case, said: “Balwinder Singh was trapped in the screw conveyor for a number of hours before his leg was amputated. The impact on Mr Singh would have been truly horrendous.”

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