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November 18, 2010

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Worker restarted machine unaware that colleague was inside

An agency worker at an international frozen-food company was fortunate to escape serious injury after being struck by moving blades inside an industrial freezer.

Thomas Munford was operating a vegetable-flow freezer at PinguinLutosa Foods UK Ltd’s factory in Bourne, Lincolnshire, when the incident took place on 21 November 2008. The machine freezes pre-washed vegetables and has a large stirrer, which distributes the vegetables on to a conveyor.

Mr Munford, who was nearing the end of a night shift, was responsible for removing ice from the freezer bed. Every 30 minutes he would enter the machine through an access hatch and use a shovel to break up ice inside the machine.

The hatch was connected to an interlock system, which isolated the machine when the hatch was open. However, the area was poorly lit and, while he was inside the freezer, one of his colleagues shut the hatch without realising that anyone was inside. This caused the machine to restart and Mr Munford became trapped as he was hit by the freezer’s moving blades. A few minutes later another colleague saw that he was trapped and pulled him free. Mr Munford suffered severe bruising to both of his legs.

HSE inspector Stuart Parry said that had Mr Munford slipped on the wet, icy floor of the freezer, instead of being able to jump clear, he might have suffered more serious injuries.

“There was a number of factors that contributed to this incident, including the conditions the two men were working in,” explained inspector Parry. “However, none of this would have mattered if a safe system of isolation, preventing access to dangerous parts of machinery, had been provided.

“If a lockable switch had been fitted to the control panel and operators instructed to padlock it in the ‘off’ position whenever they were working near the stirrer, nobody would have been able to switch the unit back on until it was safe to do so.”

PinguinLutosa Foods appeared at Spalding Magistrates’ Court on 16 November and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and reg.3(1)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined a total of £4700 and ordered to pay £2639 in costs.

The company has no previous convictions and told the court that it carried out a full risk assessment immediately after the incident. It has subsequently installed a key-operated isolation switch on the machine’s controls, and also placed an emergency stop button inside the machine. The company has also improved lighting around the area to make it easier to see if people are working inside the machine.

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