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Farming company fined after worker severely injured

1 March 2013

A Dunblane farming company has been fined after a worker was left permanently scarred from severe injuries to her leg and ankle when they were caught in an unguarded conveyor system.

Perth Sheriff Court was told yesterday (28 February) that Wanda Lustig, 34, was employed by Blackford Farms Ltd as a general farmworker when the incident happened on 18 October 2011.

Miss Lustig, a Polish national, was working with a colleague in a grain-drying building at Townhead Farm, Greenloaning near Braco, Perthshire, which was demolished as a result of the incident.

The building was formed by a series of 15 grain silos, laid out in two rows, with a narrow corridor at ground level separating the two rows and a high walkway on the fourth floor of the building, across the top of the silos. The corridor housed a chain and flight conveyor into which grain could be emptied from the silos and transported around the building.

One of the jobs that day required Miss Lustig’s colleague to climb into a silo from the high level walkway so that he could clean it out. The chain and flight conveyor was started before he entered the silo. The plan was that Miss Lustig would stay at a walkway near the top of the silo to be "on hand" and telephone for help if her colleague got into any difficulty.

While there, she also sampled grain to test its moisture after being dried. However, she heard the chain making a strange sound and decided to make her way back to the ground floor to investigate.

Realising the sound was coming from the far end of the corridor she made her way along it. The narrow width of the corridor meant that she walk on top of the metal plates covering the chains of the conveyor as she walked along.

The court heard that she saw grain piling up at the end of the corridor near to a small door. She tried to open the door but it was blocked. As she made her way back along the corridor, she slipped and caught her left foot in the moving chainwork and was dragged by it.

Her colleague in the grain bin did not hear her shouts for help. She managed to free herself, got out of the building and telephoned for help.

Miss Lustig suffered a serious degloving injury to her left leg and ankle. The ankle ligament complex was destroyed and the joint exposed, requiring extensive surgery, with more likely to be needed, leaving her with permanent scarring to her lower leg. She still suffers considerable pain, can only walk with the aid of a stick and fears she will never be able to work again.

An investigation into the incident by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the chain and flight conveyor was recessed within a metal trough, offset to one side of the corridor and the floor space alongside was only eight inches wide. In order to walk along the corridor, workers had little choice but to walk with one foot on top of the conveyor cover and one to the side of it.

The conveyor had metal plates designed to be bolted in position above it, to protect persons from being caught in its moving parts, but several were found to be loose or missing, exposing the moving parts beneath.

There were also openings in the top cover of the conveyor to enable grain to pass through from the silos, but the size of the openings was such that a person’s foot could be inserted into the gap.

The investigation also found that movement within the corridor was endangered by poor lighting and an uneven floor surface as a result of an accumulation of grain which had spilled from the silos or conveyor.

A Prohibition Notice was issued after the incident to prevent any further work taking place in the grain drying building.

Blackford Farms Ltd, Burnside of Balhaldie, Dunblane, was fined £35,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and Section 2(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Harry Bottesch, said:

"Agriculture remains one of the most dangerous industry sectors to work in. The serious and distressing injury suffered by Miss Lustig is the result of yet another entirely avoidable agricultural incident.

"Had a suitable and sufficient risk assessment been carried out then it would have identified the obvious deficiencies, and action could have been taken to address them. Guarding could have been installed on the conveyor to prevent access to dangerous parts but still enable grain to enter it. A safe system of work could also have been implemented to isolate power to the conveyor if workers needed to enter the corridor. These are not new standards and there is plenty of guidance freely available to assist employers in identifying and implementing control measures.

"This case should act as a reminder to agricultural businesses that they are legally obliged to assess the risks arising from work activities and to implement safe systems of work in order to protect their employees."

Notes to editors

  1. Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation.
  3. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  4. Section 2(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular – the provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health."

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