One of the UK’s most well-known food manufacturers was sentenced after a worker suffered severe injuries while working on one of its production lines. The HSE found a number of serious safety failings at Baxters Food Group after an investigation in 2014.
The court heard that on 30 January 2014, a short term contract worker climbed onto the conveyor belt to clear potatoes into the auger in-feed, but slipped from the belt into the collecting hopper.
His body was pulled into the auger and he was trapped for an hour while orthopaedic surgeons and other emergency services battled to free him. Once freed, he was flown by air ambulance to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for emergency treatment.
His right foot was partially amputated and he underwent a number of operations including the insertion of a metal plate and screws. However, his left foot could not be saved and he underwent a below the knee amputation of his left leg. He now wears a prosthetic leg.
The incident occurred within the steam peeling department at Baxters site in Fochabers. The department is the initial preparation line for vegetables for soup production.
The Sheriff was told that on the steam peeling line, the various different types of vegetables needed to be kept separate. To move the last few vegetables of the batch, operators used a ladder to access the conveyor belt and then used a squeegee to push the vegetables over the end of the conveyor into the auger.
On that day, as the batch of potatoes came to an end, the man put the squeegee over the edge of the hopper and once he’d stopped the conveyor belt climbed onto it to retrieve the squeegee to push the remaining potatoes off the conveyor belt and into the auger.
At this time the conveyor belt was switched off but the auger was still running. As the worker approached close to the end of the conveyor belt and as he turned to go back and collect the last of the potatoes his left foot slipped and was pulled into the auger.
The HSE findings were that Baxters had failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which workers were exposed when they were engaged in the task of clearing vegetables from the conveyor belt. It also failed to reasonably provide and maintain plant and a system of work for the task that was safe, and failed to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as was necessary to ensure, the health and safety at work of employees carrying out that the task.
The court also heard that the company was recently prosecuted for a previous accident in which a worker received hand injuries when his fingers were drawn between the rollers of a conveyor.
Baxters Food Group Limited admitted breaching Section 2(1) and Section 33(1) (a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at and was fined £60,000.
The HSE Inspector commented after the case that this tragic incident was entirely avoidable. Augers are known to be the cause of serious accidents when limbs are drawn in.
Clearly the business had overlooked many simple controls that could have helped to avoid such an event and failed to learn from previous incidents. It seems obvious to us that management must have known about the unsafe working practices yet did little to prevent the workers climbing onto the conveyors. Had the business had an effective health & safety system in place then suitable precautions could have been implemented.
This case shows the importance of a business having competent health & safety advice and acting upon such advice.