Baxters fined after man’s hand is mangled

September 23, 2016

A Moray food giant has been fined £70,000 after a worker's hand was mutilated in a pie machine. At Elgin Sheriff Court yesterday, Baxters Food Group admitted that serious health and safety failings had caused the accident. The incident happened at the company's Fochabers factory last March, in a unit where Frey Bentos pies and puddings are produced. Quality control operator James Vann-Allen was attempting to clear a blockage in equipment which seals the lids onto their packaging when the machine was switched on and his right hand became trapped. Engineering staff had to dismantle the apparatus to free Mr Vann-Allen from it. The 28-year-old suffered fractured bones and a puncture wound to the back of his hand, and has been left with two flattened knuckles. A Baxters lawyer insisted the organisation takes the welfare of its workforce "extremely seriously", and had since enacted sweeping changes to prevent employees coming to harm. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation laid bare the circumstances behind the horrific accident. The court heard that an alarm system fitted to the machine, which sounds three seconds before it is about to spring into life or when a fault occurs, had not been working for months prior to the incident. When lids became jammed on on March 13, 2015, Mr Van-Allen was called to clear the blockage. However, colleague Maria Toromanova arrived to carry out checks and switched the machine on, trapping Mr Van-Allen's hand between pieces of hardware. The employee of five years was off work until May, and only resumed his normal duties last June. Mr Van-Allen says he can no longer grip a pen or hold a grocery bag for longer than five minutes without suffering pain. Doctors say he may require an operation later in life, but that it is not possible to improve the appearance of his wounded hand. A HSE spokeswoman said: "This was a foreseeable incident, and there were several measures which could have been put in place to prevent it. "Unsafe working practices had been in place since the machine was introduced in 2012. "In March, 2014, HSE served Baxters with an improvement notice and had the firm implemented the requirements, we are of the opinion this incident would not have happened." Baxters admitted failing to ensure the health and safety at work of Mr Vann-Allen between September 1, 2013, and March 13, 2015. The firm accepted that it had failed to make a sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety on the line in question, and to provide the information and training necessary to ensure the safety of employees. The massive fine was the firm's second in less than a year. Baxters was hit with a £60,000 penalty last October after a worker had to have his left foot amputated on-site when it became caught in steam vegetable peeling machine in January 2014. Jodie Cormack's right foot later was partially amputated following a number of operations and the insertion of a metal plate and screws. Baxters' defence agent, Malcolm Gunneyon, said that the family firm launched an "action plan" to improve site safety less than a week after Mr Van-Allen's injury, which had tightened up practices across the board. Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov said she was "heartened" by the moves Baxters had taken to reduce the chances of further accidents, but condemned bosses for refusing to implement changes when problems were brought to light. She said: "A significant factor here is failure to implement changes after being notified of contraventions. "It is likely that this accident would not have occurred if that had happened."