Firm fined £250,000 after three employees overcome by fumes

In April 2014, a driver of John Pointon and Sons Limited was unloading carcasses from a truck during his night shift. After emptying one compartment of his trailer, which was covered with a tarpaulin, he climbed onto a gantry to roll the tarpaulin back before tipping out a second load. He noticed a pig carcass was stuck between compartments, so climbed inside the trailer to dislodge it with a shovel. As he did so, he was overcome by hydrogen sulfide – produced by the rotting carcasses – and a lack of oxygen. Subsequently, two further employees entered the waste compartment and were also overcome by the gases.

Although employees would regularly have to climb over the side of a trailer to dislodge carcasses, but there was no instruction given to staff on how to enter a trailer. The firm also did not class a trailer as a 'confined space' and no risk assessment was carried out.

This preventable incident could have easily resulted in fatalities and the company had been prosecuted twice before for two fatal incidents which involved confined space entry within a processing plant.

John Pointon and Sons Limited, of Bones Lane, Cheddleton, Stoke-on-Trent, was fined £250,000 with costs of £37,362 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Regulation 5(1) of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997.

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