Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Business guilty of corporate manslaughter.
Garden landscaping supplies firm Deco-Pak, Hipperholme, has been found guilty of corporate manslaughter after a member of staff was crushed to death by a robotic arm.
The jury at Bradford Crown Court heard that maintenance engineer, Andrew Tibbott, 48, died on Good Friday, 2017, when he was pinned to a conveyor belt after walking through a gap in the safety fencing on an RM packaging machine.
Jurors heard Mr Tibbott's body was discovered only when his family went to look for him after he did not return home.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that "within days" of the 2015 installation of the automated machinery, used for bagging aggregates, the company had caused essential safety features to be bypassed or disabled.
The jury cleared company director, Rodney Slater, 62, of Wellbank View, Rochdale, of Mr Tibbott’s manslaughter by gross negligence and failing to ensure that staff were not exposed to risk. A verdict has not yet been reached on a second director, Michael Hall, 64, of Hullen Edge Lane, Elland, who also denies Mr Tibbott’s manslaughter by gross negligence.
Deco-Pak, a family business founded in 2004, and Hall pleaded guilty before the trial to failing to ensure that staff at the factory were not exposed to risk.
The jury saw CCTV footage of the moments before Mr Tibbott was crushed after being pinned to a conveyor by the robotic lifting arm 14 seconds after he walked through the gap in the safety fencing.
The footage of him entering the RM packaging machine’s robotic cell to clean, or adjust, a sensor was shown in court by prosecutor Allan Compton QC who accused the company of having “a scant regard” for health and safety.
The “powerful and dangerous” robotic arm swung into action while Mr Tibbott was doing routine maintenance work. He had worked for the company for only six weeks and was alone at the factory at the time.
Mr Compton said Deco-Pak had no interest in running the RM machine safely. He said: “They encouraged a culture of production at all costs, putting the lives of employees at risk.”
He told the jury that when Mr Tibbott entered the robotic cell, the machine was still operational in automatic mode awaiting a signal. When he cleaned or adjusted a sensor it detected an empty pallet, dropped a bag and swung back to collect a new one.
Mr Compton said factory CCTV footage before Mr Tibbott’s death showed staff entering the robotic cell when it was “live and capable of doing what it did to Mr Tibbott.” He alleged that his training was “inadequate and not focused on safety.” Documents recovered by the police from Deco-Pak showed that risk assessments were “paperwork exercises” rather than the basis for effective health and safety.
Hall told the police that the company took health and safety very seriously and that he had never seen an employee enter the cell while the robot was operational. Slater said he wasn’t familiar with the machine’s operations or functions and relied on the expertise of those who had received specialist training from RM.
Deco-Pak had pleaded guilty to breaching the Health & Safety Act at the first court hearing.
It accepted that it had failed to do what was reasonably practicable to protect workers on the packaging machines, including the RM machine that killed Mr Tibbott.
Michael Hall’s son, David Hall, who is also a director, said the firm also accepted that the gap in the fencing round the machine and the lackof an interlock on the red gate was unacceptable.