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March 20, 2009

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Dairy firm failed to address poor system of work

A dairy-products company has been fined £18,000 following an accident, which left a worker with serious groin injuries.

Telford Magistrates’ Court heard that John Webberley, 58, was working as a plant operative at Dairy Crest Ltd’s factory in Esher, Surrey. He was cleaning an effluent pit, which contained a milk by-product, when the accident took place on 17 June 2007.

Mr Webberley was standing on some gratings at the top of the pit and using hot water from an industrial hose to melt the solidifying milk by-product. He had lifted a section of the gratings to lower the hose and had removed another set of gratings, which was positioned behind him, so that a colleague could use a suction hose to remove the water. But because his colleague was at ground level and not actually working behind him. As he thought, Mr Webberley lost his balance and fell down the opening in the gratings.

He landed on wires, which were running across the inside of the tank and suffered serious groin and abdominal injuries. His colleague heard him screaming in pain and rushed to the top of the pit to pull him to safety. He was taken to hospital where he spent six days and underwent surgery. Doctors have advised him that he will never be able to return to work due to the severity of his injuries.

Dairy Crest Ltd appeared in court on 2 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It received a £18,000 fine and was ordered to pay £2675 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had a good safety record and showed extreme remorse for the accident. As a result, it has carried out a risk assessment and made substantial alterations to the pit. The grids are now secured and a small hatchway has been created so the hose and suction pump can fit through the grids.

HSE inspector David Kilvin said: “It is essential that covers and gratings of pits containing free-flowing solids and liquids are of a suitable and sufficient construction and well-maintained. This should minimise the risk of them giving way and ensure that employees working in and around them are not exposed to unnecessary risk.

“In this case, the employer failed to adequately assess the risks associated with the task of emptying the pit. If a suitable risk assessment had been undertaken it should have identified the poor systems of work being used, and this accident could have been easily avoided.”

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