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Workers killed in conveyor incident.

Two North West companies have been fined after the death of two workers at a Merseyside woodchip factory in a case described by a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector as one of the most horrific he has ever dealt with.

The two workers, James Bibby, 25, and Thomas Elmer, 27, were killed when carrying out maintenance work on a conveyor belt at the Sonae factory in Kirkby.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that on 7 December 2010 Elmer, who was employed by Metso Paper Ltd, and Bibby, a self-employed contractor for the same company, had been asked to replace part of a conveyor belt at Sonae Industria (UK) Ltd's plant.

However, while they were carrying out the work, the conveyor unexpectedly started to operate, dragging both men into the machinery causing catastrophic fatal injuries.

An HSE investigation found multiple failings by both companies to properly assess the risks associated with the work that the pair were asked to carry out.

Sonae Industria (UK) Ltd's failings included not properly assessing the risks associated with the work on the conveyor or sharing these with contractors; not having a proper process for managing contractors or a procedure for isolating dangerous machinery, and failing to train or check the competence of workers.

Valmet Ltd, which took over Metso Ltd in 2013, was prosecuted for failing to ensure the site its workers were visiting had sufficient risk assessments and processes in place.

The company had also failed to ensure its workers and contractors had adequate training for the tasks or provided with the necessary information on the work they were asked to do.

Sonae Industria (UK) Ltd was fined £220,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Valmet Ltd was fined £190,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

HSE's principal inspector, Mike Sebastian, said: "James Bibby and Thomas Elmer should not have died. This is perhaps the most horrific case I have ever had to deal with and has had a devastating effect on both families.

"Carrying out straightforward risk assessments is about protecting workers from serious harm, suffering life-changing injuries or, in this tragic case, death.

"If both companies had taken simple steps to protect their workers' safety these two young men would still be with us today."