Rugby company fined after employee’s hand was crushed

Rugby Borough Council
Rugby Borough Council

A COMPANY providing packaging for fruit and vegetables has been fined £40,000 after a prosecution brought by Rugby Borough Council.

IFCO Systems UK, formerly of Cosford Lane, Rugby, where the accident happened, pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches which caused an accident that crushed a man’s hand.

At a hearing at Nuneaton Justice Centre on Monday October 10, magistrates heard that the company accepted that it failed in its duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of its employees, contrary to section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The court heard that on Saturday 6 June 2015 an air leak was discovered in a pipe leading to a palletiser, which lifts pallets to a higher level by means of a pneumatic lifting table.

A maintenance operative made a temporary fix so that the production line could continue, and then returned with his tools during a break.

He switched off the electrical supply, opened an interlock door to access the pipe, and began to work on the leak that he had strapped earlier.

As he was working the lifting table lifted, crushing his left hand.

The maintenance operative feared that he would be trapped for the full thirty minute break as his team leader was wearing ear defenders and could not hear his cries for help

However a forklift driver was passing and heard him, and freed his trapped hand.

The court was told that the maintenance operative had thirty years’ experience in maintenance and mechanics and had an electrical qualification from Poland.

However, although 40 out of the 56 agency staff on site didn’t speak English as their first language and IFCO had provided verbal training in Polish, all of the health and safety and machine documentation was in English.

There was no specific training on the palletiser, and nor was there any training on the pneumatic systems or the dangers of stored air pressure and its safe release.

Investigating officers found that there was no risk assessment in place for replacing the pipes, and neither had anyone verified that the pneumatic system was isolated before the operative started work.

The council issued a prohibition notice on the palletiser and also served an improvement notice. Both were complied with, as was an engineer’s recommendation to replace valves on the machine.

In mitigation, the court was told that IFCO had no previous convictions and that the company had cooperated with the investigation.

In a victim impact statement that was read during the hearing, the court heard that the maintenance operative had been unable to return to his job and had to find alternative employment.

His left hand was now severely restricted in its movements for which he had received complex and painful physical therapy.

He had had to take an unskilled job checking the quality and number of car parts, though he was limited in this role by the restriction of movement in his hand.

He is unlikely to be able to return to his profession as a mechanic.

Magistrates fined IFCO £40,000 with costs of £4844 and a victim surcharge of £120.

Speaking after the hearing, Cllr Lisa Parker, Rugby Borough Council portfolio holder for environment and public realm, said: “Employers have a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.

“The injuries inflicted in this case could have been significantly worse, and at one point it looked like the operative’s hand would have to be amputated.

“Employers must carry out regular risk assessments and inspections on their machinery, and make sure that all of their staff have access to training and documentation that they can read and understand.

“It is not acceptable for staff to be seriously injured in the course of carrying out their work.”