Global food producer Heinz was fined for serious safety failings after an engineer had his hand severed when it became trapped in live, unguarded machinery at its Norfolk plant.
A contractor was servicing a potato peeling machine at Heinz’s Westwick manufacturing plant in Norfolk, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown in 2013.
As he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt, he climbed down from the peeling machine which was electrically isolated and put his hand into the slurry pump below, which operated and severed his right hand.
He was treated at Norfolk and Norwich hospital for two weeks and has had to undergo eight separate operations on the stump. He is now unable to drive, work or even carry out many day to day activities.
The incident was investigated by the HSE, which prosecuted Heinz Manufacturing UK Ltd for a safety breach. The court was told that self-employed engineer was servicing a ‘brush and belt’ peeler, a large machine used to remove skins from potatoes, of which he had previous experience. The machine was isolated and locked off by both Heinz and the contractor before he began work.
While stripping the peeler down, he dropped a bolt which he thought had fallen through the peeler and into a slurry pump underneath – a single cavity pump with a screw auger at the bottom which removes waste water and peelings when the peeler is in operation. He reached into the slurry pump to retrieve the bolt and the pump started, slicing through his wrist.
HSE’s investigation revealed that although the slurry pump appeared to be an integral part of the peeler, it was in fact a separate machine with its own power supply and isolation point. The contractor was unaware of this and believed he had isolated the pump along with the peeler at the main distribution box.
Crucially, a protective grate bolted on top of the pump to prevent access, was absent, enabling him to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger. HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time.
H J Heinz Manufacturing Ltd of Hayes, Middlesex, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Following the case, HSE Inspector commented that this man suffered a horrific injury in an incident that was wholly avoidable. It is the duty of the employer to ensure their employees and contractors can carry out their work safely.
Maintenance activities on production machinery will invariably involve additional hazards beyond those present in normal operation. However this man was put at risk by Heinz Ltd’s inadequate assessment of risks and lack of effective measures to stop access to dangerous parts of equipment.