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December 18, 2008

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Recycling firm hit with massive fine after worker decapitated

A recycling plant has been fined £180,000 after an employee was decapitated falling into a baling machine.

Swindon Crown Court heard that Paul McGuire, 33, was working for SITA UK Ltd at the company’s Kingshill Recycling Centre in Cricklade, Wiltshire when the accident occurred on 16 August 2005.

Mr McGuire had only worked at the centre for three months and was employed as a general yard-hand, responsible for loading and operating fork lifts. On the day of the accident he was instructed to load a large quantity of cardboard into a baling machine, so that it could be processed for recycling. Mr McGuire had never used the machine before and was left to carry out the task unsupervised.

The machine was known to suffer from blockages on a regular basis. On the day in question, cardboard became blocked at the top of the conveyer and Mr McGuire attempted to unblock the machine. He switched off the conveyer belt but forgot to turn off the baler, and proceeded to climb up to the top of the conveyer to dislodge the blockage. Once he reached the top he lost his balance and fell into the hopper, sliding down into the baler chamber, where he was crushed and decapitated.

SITA pleaded guilty to breaching s2 (1) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay costs of £38,000, on 12 December.

The court imposed a large fine because the firm had been prosecuted for an almost identical incident, which took place in 2002. An employee at the firm’s premises in Cremorne Wharf, London severed both of his legs after falling into a baling machine, while attempting to remove a blockage.

In mitigation, SITA offered its deepest condolences to Mr McGuire’s family and said it was extremely sorry that the accident had happened. It also said that the machine had been immediately taken out of action and alterations were made to improve safety features. It has also introduced a new safe system of work for removing blockages.

HSE Principal Inspector, Andrew Kingscott, told SHP: “This case demonstrates the importance of ensuring that there are very clear and robust procedures for clearing blockages on balers and associated plant. The systems of work should be such that they do not allow shortcuts to develop, and ensure that all machinery is isolated from, and locked off from the power source before any attempt can be made to clear a blockage.

“Anyone operating a baler and associated equipment should be trained, authorised, and aware of the correct procedures to clear blockages. The implementation of these measures should go a long way to reducing the number of incidents in the waste recycling sector, particularly in the kind of horrific accident that claimed Paul McGuire’s life.”

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