Huddersfield company fined £366,850 after worker crushed to death

The 51-year-old father-of-two, who had worked for the company for around 11 years, was using a knife to clear a blockage in a stretch roller at around 2am on 24th March 2017 when he was suddenly dragged into it and pulled around the roller at least twice. His colleagues, who did not see how he was dragged into the machine, rushed to save him by pressing the emergency stop bar and cutting his clothes. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

A post-mortem examination revealed he had suffered 26 rib fractures, some of which had torn his left lung, a fractured pelvis and a fracture-dislocation to his spine. There were also lacerations to his liver and a traumatic dissection of the aorta. Minimal internal bleeding indicated a very short survival time.

The machine was used to make fine polypropylene fibres, which are used to reinforce tea bags so that they do not fall apart in hot water. It was common for the fibres to 'lap' on the rollers - in the way in which candy floss is created - and create a blockage. The 'laps' needed to be removed quickly otherwise they would get so big that the production line would have to be temporarily stopped. The fibres were sometimes cut by putting a wooden pole with a serrated metal blade on the end through a safety gate. But this did not always work and it had been practice for decades for staff, including managers, to reach around the safety gate and cut the laps by hand with a knife. He said the emergency stop bar was not accessible from this position.

Mr Ghaffer had previously complained that there was pressure to increase production in the factory and he felt it was 'an accident waiting to happen'. His partner Helen Rattigan provided a victim personal statement. The Health and Safety Executive found that the company implemented new health and safety measures immediately after the accident and Mr Ghaffer's family are 'delighted' with the changes. In June 2019, an inquest jury returned a verdict that his death was an accident. In December 2019, the company pleaded guilty at Leeds Magistrates Court to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees under section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company has no previous convictions.

Sentencing, Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said, "My assessment of all the evidence is that the company's attitude to health and safety has been lax and the evidence reveals two things. Firstly, that a culture had been allowed to exist where health and safety was not being given proper attention. Secondly, by the time of the accident, that culture had started to be addressed following the appointment of Mr [Stephen] O'Neil who is now the managing director. But not enough had been done and it had not been done quickly enough. The position had not arisen, I find, because of any desire by the company to cut costs. It was simply that familiarity and the lack of previous incidents had led to a prevailing attitude of complacency and indeed resistance to change or suggestions being made by the outside health and safety consultant."

In calculating the fine, the judge said he had to consider the company's lack of previous convictions, its co-operation in the prosecution and in implementing new health and safety measures, its turnover and if the fine he imposed would put the company out of business.

The court heard that IFG Drake's turnover in the year ending June 2019 was £33.7m. The company has been operating at a reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic and its predicted turnover for the year ending June 2021 is £23.4m. He gave the company five years to pay the fine.

It was also ordered to pay £23,993.41 in prosecution costs and a £170 victim surcharge.

At the end of the hearing, the judge said: "This fine is in no way setting the value of his life. It was priceless and the loss to his family is incalculable."

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