Heinz Prosecuted After Worker Loses Hand

Fine Over Avoidable Accident That Caused A Man To Lose His Right Hand

19.05.2014

Heinz has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an accident in which one of its staff lost a hand.

The incident took place at the company's plant in Worstead, Norfolk in June 2013, when the plant had been shut down temporarily for maintenance purposes.

Alec Brackenbury was servicing a potato peeling machine at the plant when he dropped a bolt into a slurry machine. As he tried to retrieve it, the device activated and severed his right hand.

As a result, he was hospitalised for two weeks, needed eight operations on his stump and is now unable to carry out many day-to-day activities, including working and driving.

The HSE investigated the incident and found that, unknown to Mr Brackenbury, the slurry pump was a separate piece of equipment with its own independent power supply, which unlike that for the potato peeling machine had not been switched off.

It also noted a protective grate that would have stopped Mr Brackenbury reaching into the device was not present and may have been missing for a prolonged period.

As a result of these failings, Heinz pleaded guilty at Norwich Magistrates' Court to a breach of Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £50,000 with £9,661 costs.

Discussing the case, HSE inspector Tony Brookes called the accident "wholly avoidable".

He added: “It is the duty of the employer to ensure their employees and contractors can carry out their work safely. Sadly in this case Heinz failed to protect Mr Brackenbury while he was contracted to carry out maintenance work at their Westwick plant and, as a result, he has suffered a life-changing injury.”

The case was not the only one recently dealt with by the HSE concerning hand injuries caused by unguarded or faulty equipment.

Other examples include that of Oxfordshire-based JSP, a maker of personal protective equipment, which was fined over an incident in January last year in which a guard door on a piece of machinery was opened but the mechanism that would have automatically cut the power as a result was not switched off.

The HSE found no maintenance work had been done on the device in eight years.

Expert Opinion
This is another terrible incident which highlights not only the devastating, long-term consequences that serious safety failings can have on workers, but also how something as simple as machine guarding – or in this case a protective grate – can make a huge difference.

"Employers have a duty to ensure that workers and contractors can go about their daily tasks without facing risks to their health or safety. We would urge all businesses to take notice of this case as a key reason why they must put the welfare of workers before anything else in the workplace.

"Too many people are injured, some fatally, every year as a result of issues which should have been avoided. Lessons need to be learned from this kind of awful case."
Stephen Nye, Partner