Director warned he ‘cannot hide behind organisation’ after fatal accident

Company directors are being reminded they must take their responsibilities for health and safety seriously and not “hide behind the organisation” following the case of a director of a pet food company who has been fined £10,000 for breaches of health and safety law after a worker was crushed to death.

John O’Connor, who worked at the Butcher’s Pet Care Ltd factory, was crushed when he entered a palletising machine to clear a blockage. A palletising machine is used to take cans of pet food from conveyor belts and stack them in layers on pallets. It is fully automatic and operated by sensors. The machine should have been fully enclosed with an interlock system to prevent anyone gaining access until the power is shut off.

Mr O’Connor entered the caged area – via a gap in the fencing created by the stair rails – to reposition a blocked pallet, which when freed, set the machine in motion, trapping and killing Mr O’Connor.

The company’s operations director, Philip Thompson, was this week fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs after being prosecuted by the HSE at Northampton Crown Court.

Mr Thompson, who was also the director with responsibility for health and safety, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 in failing in his role as a director to ensure that effective measures were taken to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.

HSE Principal Inspector for Northamptonshire, Neil Craig, said:
“This tragic loss of life could have been so easily avoided had Mr Thompson properly fulfilled his duties as a director.”

“This was far from being an isolated incident. The unfenced gap between the stair rails had been there for nearly two years and it had become common practice for employees to nip through it to fix problems on the machine in an effort keep the production line running, anyone of whom could have suffered the same fate as Mr O’Connor.”

“This level of fine should serve as a stark warning to company directors to take their responsibilities for health and safety seriously and to reinforce the message that they cannot hide behind the organisation.”