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Food giant Heinz sentenced after engineer’s life-changing injury

Date:
16 May 2014

Global food producer Heinz was today (16 May) fined for serious safety failings after an engineer had his hand severed when it became trapped in live, unguarded machinery at its Norfolk plant.

Alec ‘Alf’ Brackenbury, 49, from Bacton, Norfolk, was servicing a potato peeling machine at Heinz’s Westwick manufacturing plant in Station Road, Worstead, Norfolk, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown on 20 June 2013.

As he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt, he climbed down from the peeling machine which was electrically isolated and put his hand into the slurry pump below, which operated and severed his right hand.

He was treated at Norfolk and Norwich hospital for two weeks and has had to undergo eight separate operations on the stump. He is now unable to drive, work or even carry out many day to day activities.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted Heinz Manufacturing UK Ltd for a safety breach at Norwich Crown Court.

The court was told that self-employed engineer Mr Brackenbury was servicing a ‘brush and belt’ peeler, a large machine used to remove skins from potatoes, of which he had previous experience. The machine was isolated and locked off by both Heinz and Mr Brackenbury before he began work.

While stripping the peeler down, he dropped a bolt which he thought had fallen through the peeler and into a slurry pump underneath – a single cavity pump with a screw auger at the bottom which removes waste water and peelings when the peeler is in operation. He reached into the slurry pump to retrieve the bolt and the pump started, slicing through his wrist.

HSE’s investigation revealed that although the slurry pump appeared to be an integral part of the peeler, it was in fact a separate machine with its own power supply and isolation point. Alf Brackenbury was unaware of this and believed he had isolated the pump along with the peeler at the main distribution box.

Crucially, a protective grate bolted on top of the pump to prevent access, was absent, enabling Mr Brackenbury to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger. HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time.

H J Heinz Manufacturing Ltd of Hayes Park, Hayes, Middlesex, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Tony Brookes, said:

“Alf Brackenbury suffered a horrific injury in an incident that was wholly avoidable.

“Maintenance activities on production machinery will invariably involve additional hazards beyond those present in normal operation. Mr. Brackenbury was put at risk by Heinz Ltd’s inadequate assessment of risks and lack of effective measures to stop access to dangerous parts of equipment.

“It is the duty of the employer to ensure their employees and contractors can carry out their work safely. Sadly in this case Heinz failed to protect Mr Brackenbury while he was contracted to carry out maintenance work at their Westwick plant and, as a result, he has suffered a life-changing injury.”

For more information about safety in the food manufacturing industry visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/food/index.htm

Notes to Editors

Photo and statement from Alec Brackenbury available via RNN.

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 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. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: “Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken to (a) prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or (b) to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery or rotating stock-bar before any part of a person enters a danger zone.”
  3. HSE news releases are available at press.hse.gov.uk

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