A textile manufacturing company has been sentenced along with one of its directors following the death of its managing director.

A production line machine had become blocked with waste. The court heard the managing director entered the line while it was still running. He overrode the safety system using a key to unlock a gate. He then tried unblocking the machine with a metal bar. Although the machine had been switched off, it was still running down when it caught hold of his clothing. He was dragged into its moving parts and killed.

Death waiting to happen

The judge described the system in operation at the factory as a “death waiting to happen”. In the two weeks before the fatality CCTV footage showed 78 incidents of staff inside running machinery. One employee previously had two fingers crushed in machinery. The judge commented there clearly was “no regard for the safety of those who were employed”.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found it was normal practice for workers to open gates using keys and clear jams while machines were still running. Numerous safety issues were discovered including insecure covers on electrical panels, loose and broken guarding and fencing that was too low.

The HSE issued prohibition notices stopping operations until the unsafe practices were fixed.  However, the factory continued to operate unsafely for a “sustained period” following the MD’s death with the knowledge and consent of company director Wazir Hussain. Indeed, staff continued clearing blockages with metal bars while machines were running indicating “a widespread failure to follow safety rules”.

The prosecution said the case was so bad “a serious accident involving death was not only foreseeable it was inevitable”.

Sentence

Felt Supplies Ltd admitted that the deliberate by-passing of safety procedures broke the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £175,000 with costs of £64,000.

Wazir Hussain, who was the victim’s brother, accepted he broke the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The judge handed Hussain a 12 month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. He said he would have given an immediate jail term had the case been heard earlier but accepted improvements had since been made.

Easily avoidable

The HSE said the tragedy could easily have been avoided. It added that while a director was fatally injured it could have been an employee, in which case a corporate manslaughter charge may have been brought.

The HSE say companies should be aware it will not hesitate to act against those falling below the required standards especially if there is a deliberate disregard of the law.

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure the way your organisation works does not fall below the required Health & Safety standards.

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