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November 3, 2011

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Pet-food factory failed to implement “straightforward” safety measures

A worker died after his neck was crushed by a pneumatic hatch on a ribbon-mixing machine at a pet-food factory in Ipswich.

Terrence Gardiner, 61, was working as a supervisor at H G Gladwell and Sons Ltd when the incident took place on 19 May 2009. He was working alone operating a ribbon-mixing machine used to stir animal feed, and, as part of the process, he was required to pour soya oil into the machine to add gloss to the mixture.

In order to add the oil he had to stand on a crate and hold down a switch. This opened a hatch at the top of the machine, enabling him to lean over and pour the liquid inside. He was found by colleagues lying face down on top of the machine with his head, neck, and right arm trapped by the hatch. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The HSE visited the factory the same day and found a plastic jug inside the machine. It is thought that the jug contained soya oil and had fallen into the mixer, and Mr Gardiner was trying to retrieve it. When he climbed on to the roof of the machine and leant inside, his hand most likely came away from the switch, which caused the hatch to close on him.

H G Gladwell and Sons was issued with a Prohibition Notice requiring it to stop using the machine until guards had been installed to stop workers being able to climb on top of the mixer. The company also received an Improvement Notice, which ordered it to create a safe area for workers to pour in the oil rather than them having to stand on a crate.

HSE inspector Glyn Davies said: “There were measures the company could have put in place to prevent access to the top of the mixer, such as sufficient guarding, a remotely positioned operating switch, or a grille over the sliding pneumatic hatch itself.

“They singularly failed to implement any of these straightforward protective measures. It is vital that manufacturing firms make sure that dangerous parts on their machines are identified and properly guarded. As we have seen here, machines like these can be incredibly dangerous and no company should take these unnecessary risks.”

H G Gladwell and Sons appeared at Ipswich Crown Court on 31 October and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.11 of PUWER 1998, for failing to prevent access to the hatch. It was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay £20,437 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it has complied with the enforcement notices by installing guards on the top of the machine, and by creating a gantry with edge protection next to the machine, so workers can safely lean over and pour the oil without being able to access the roof of the mixer. The firm had no previous safety convictions.

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