A firm that supplies machinery for paper mills has been fined after a worker plunged several metres into a giant blender-like pulping machine.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found serious safety failings by Valmet Ltd which was also responsible for maintaining the machine.

The maintenance worker was high up tightening bolts when he fell. There was no protective barrier and he slid down a sloping metal chute into a tank filled with 2.5 metres of water. He swam in darkness to a ledge and called for help.

Although Valmet Ltd had carried out a risk assessment of the task it had not picked up on the risk of falling from height.

The company admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,500.

Risk assessments

The HSE said “A supervisor had to carry out numerous risk assessments on the day of the incident along with covering others duties. The hazard of working at height was not identified and as such a worker was exposed to a serious risk which could have resulted in death. It was pure luck that the pulper blades were not working or that the injured person did not drown.”

It added “Risk assessments are the foundation for the effective control of risks. Time should be afforded to those who are required to complete them to ensure the hazards are identified and risks are controlled in order to safeguard workers.”

Narrow escape

The worker was said to have cheated death. The agitators that pulp the paper would have automatically activated had the water reached a certain level. Luckily, a colleague heard his cries and opened a side door to let the water out.

The judge said it was a matter of chance the worker had not drowned or suffered a head injury. It was also a matter of chance that his calls for help were heard. The man was said to have had a “narrow escape”.

However, in attempting to play down matters Valmet’s lawyer said the danger was not as serious as described. The defence lawyer said the worker would not “for want of a better phrase” have been “mashed” as the water had been largely drained due to the maintenance taking place.

Contact Ellis Whittam to make sure your workers don’t want for a better phrase!

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