Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Fibre manufacturer fined after worker was killed.
A fibre manufacturer whose health and safety 'complacency' led to a member of staff being crushed to death in a factory in Golcar, Huddersfield, has been fined hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Bradford-based IFG Drake Ltd was ordered to pay £366,850 three years after the death of Javeed Ghaffar, 51, at its plant in Victoria Mills.
Mr Ghaffar, who had worked for the company for around 11 years, was using a knife to clear a blockage in a stretch roller at around 2am on March 24, 2017 when he was suddenly dragged into the machine and pulled around the roller at least twice.
His colleagues, who did not see how he was dragged into the machine, rushed to save him by pressing the emergency stop bar and cutting his clothes but paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
A post-mortem examination revealed he had suffered 26 rib fractures, some of which had torn his left lung, a fractured pelvis and a fracture-dislocation to his spine. There were also lacerations to his liver and a traumatic dissection of the aorta. Minimal internal bleeding indicated a very short survival time.
Prosecutor, Craig Hassall, said the machine was used to make fine polypropylene fibres, which are used to reinforce tea bags so that they do not fall apart in hot water.
He said it was common for the fibres to 'lap' on the rollers, in the way in which candy floss is created, and cause a blockage.
Mr Hassall said the 'laps' needed to be removed quickly otherwise they would get so big that the production line would have to be temporarily stopped.
He said the fibres were sometimes cut by putting a wooden pole with a serrated metal blade on the end through a safety gate.
But this did not always work and it had been practice for decades for staff, including managers, to reach around the safety gate and cut the laps by hand with a knife. He said the emergency stop bar was not accessible from this position.
Leeds Crown Court heard Mr Ghaffer had previously complained that there was pressure to increase production in the factory and he felt it was 'an accident waiting to happen.’
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company implemented new health and safety measures immediately after the accident and Mr Ghaffer's family are 'delighted' with the changes.
An inquest jury returned a verdict that his death was an accident and the company pleaded guilty at Leeds Magistrates Court to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees under section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Sentencing, Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said: "My assessment of all the evidence is that the company's attitude to health and safety has been lax and the evidence reveals two things.
"Firstly, that a culture had been allowed to exist where health and safety was not being given proper attention.
“Secondly, by the time of the accident, that culture had started to be addressed following the appointment of Mr Stephen O'Neil, now managing director. But not enough had been done and it had not been done quickly enough."
He added that statements from the site's manager, James Brookes, and another member of staff revealed a 'concerning attitude to health and safety'.
In calculating the fine, the judge said he had to consider the company's lack of previous convictions, its co-operation in the prosecution and in implementing new health and safety measures, its turnover and if the fine he imposed would put the company out of business.
The court heard that IFG Drake's turnover in the year ending June 2019 was £33.7m. The company has been operating at a reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic and its predicted turnover for the year ending June 2021 is £23.4m. He gave the company five years to pay the fine. It was also ordered to pay £23,993.41 in prosecution costs and a £170 victim surcharge.
After the hearing, HSE inspector, John Boyle, said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to provide adequate guarding against dangerous parts of the machine.
“Companies should be aware that HSE would not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”