Heinz Fined £50,000 after Worker Loses Hand

Heinz Fined 50,000 After Worker Loses Hand 25944

Food manufacturer Heinz has been fined £50,000 in the wake of a workplace accident in which a worker was seriously injured.

On June 20th 2013, Alec Brackenbury was servicing a machine that removes the skins from potatoes at the firm's plant in Worstead, Norfolk. While performing the task at the Westwick facility, he accidentally dropped a bolt and believed it had fallen through the machine and into a slurry pump located underneath.

Mr Brackenbury, 49, therefore reached inside in order to retrieve the bolt, as the power to the machine had been isolated and locked off beforehand. 

However, the slurry pump became active and sliced through his right wrist. Mr Brackenbury was subsequently hospitalised for two weeks and has required multiple operations on the affected area since.

Furthermore, his injury means he can no longer work, drive or perform many simple tasks he would previously have taken for granted.

Work Accident Investigation

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out a work accident investigation and found that the slurry pump was not actually a key part of the peeler.

In fact, the single cavity pump was an entirely separate device that had its own isolation point and power supply.

This fact had not been made known to Mr Brackenbury, so when he isolated the pump at the main distribution box, he had no reason to believe the pump would suddenly start operating.

The HSE also concluded that the accident was partly brought about by the lack of a protective grate bolted on top of the pump.

If this feature had been in place, Mr Brackenbury would not have been able to gain access to the pump.

While it is uncertain precisely how long no guard had been present, the HSE believes it could have been absent "for some time".

Prosecution

Heinz pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was subsequently ordered to pay a fine of £50,000, as well as £9,961 in costs.

Avoidable Accident

Speaking after the sentencing, HSE inspector Tony Brookes insisted that the accident at Heinz's Westwick manufacturing plant had been "wholly avoidable".

"Maintenance activities on production machinery will invariably involve additional hazards beyond those present in normal operation," he commented.

However, Mr Brookes argued that Mr Brackenbury was put at risk because Heinz's assessment of the risks present on the site had been "inadequate".

Furthermore, he said there had been a "lack of effective measures to stop access to dangerous parts of equipment".

"It is the duty of the employer to ensure their employees and contractors can carry out their work safely," he continued.

"Sadly in this case, Heinz failed to protect Mr Brackenbury while he was contracted to carry out maintenance work at their Westwick plant."

Mr Brookes added that the injury sustained by Mr Brackenbury was "horrific" and "life-changing".

Statistics

According to data from the HSE, food processing machinery in plants causes over ten per cent of major injuries in the food and drink sector. Figures also show it is responsible for a similar proportion of fatal injuries in these industries.

By Chris Stevenson