Food manufacturer fined after worker’s fingertips are amputated

The Health and Safety Executive is warning food companies about the need for suitable risk assessments and adequate guarding of machinery after a company was fined today at Oxford Magistrates Court, following an incident where one of its employees was left with a permanently disfigured hand.

Spread Newco Four Ltd, formally known as Queen of Hearts (UK) Ltd, whose head office is in Shadsworth Business Park in Blackburn, Lancashire, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and Regulation 3 (1) (a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The company was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £2,751.

On 22 January 2009, employee Paulina Lleshi, of Oxford, was cleaning a sponge cake icing machine, called a fondant enrober, at the company’s factory at 1 Ledgers Close, Sandy Lane West in Oxford. At the end of every day it was the operator’s job to clean off the excess fondant when production had finished. When Ms Lleshi pushed her left hand along a channel at the base of the machine, her fingers came into contact with a large revolving screw, known as an auger. This amputated the ends of two fingers on her hand.

The HSE investigation showed that there was only a single generic risk assessment covering this machine. This did not detail any risks in relation to this specific machine nor did it cover the cleaning of the machine. In addition to this the company had a cleaning instruction card for the machine which stated that the power should be switched off before the machine was cleaned, although the company accepted that it would not be practicable to clean the machine properly with the power off. There was no evidence that Ms Lleshi had ever seen this document.

After the incident the company fitted some additional guarding on the machine which prevented access to the dangerous part and allowed operators to safely clean that part of the machine whilst it was running.

HSE inspector, Matthew Lee said:

“The risks associated with these types of cleaning machines should be properly assessed as this is one of the major causes of machinery accidents in the food industry.

“In this case any basic assessment would have identified that access to the dangerous part of the machine was possible and this was easily preventable by a very simple modification to the machine.”