Heinz fined after engineer has hand sliced off

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Engineer severly injured by potato peeling machine at H J Heinz
H J Heinz has been fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after an engineer severed his hand when it became trapped in an unguarded machine.

A UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that a protective grate bolted on top of a slurry pump to prevent access, was absent, enabling the engineer to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger.

HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time from the Norfolk plant.

A Heinz statement sent to FoodQualityNews.com said: “Safety is always our first concern. Although a safe system for maintenance work was in place further measures have been adopted to ensure that such a regrettable accident could not happen again.”

Maintenance on potato peeler

Alec Brackenbury, known as Alf, from Bacton, Norfolk, was servicing a potato peeling machine at Heinz’s Westwick manufacturing plant, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown in June last year.

As he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt at the plant in Station Road, Worstead he climbed down from the peeling machine which was electrically isolated and put his hand into the slurry pump below, which operated and severed his right hand.

The 49 year old was treated at two hospitals for two weeks and has had to undergo eight separate operations on the stump. He is now unable to drive, work or carry out many day to day activities.

Norwich Magistrates’ Court was told that self-employed engineer was servicing a ‘brush and belt’ peeler, a large machine used to remove skins from potatoes, of which he had previous experience. The machine was isolated and locked off by Heinz and Brackenbury before he began work.

While stripping the peeler down, he dropped a bolt which he thought had fallen through the peeler and into a slurry pump underneath – a single cavity pump with a screw auger at the bottom which removes waste water and peelings when the peeler is in operation.

He reached into the slurry pump to retrieve the bolt and the pump started, slicing through his wrist.

HSE’s investigation revealed that although the slurry pump appeared to be an integral part of the peeler, it was a separate machine with its own power supply and isolation point.

Brackenbury was unaware of this and believed he had isolated the pump along with the peeler at the main distribution box.

Additional hazards

HSE Inspector Tony Brookes, said: “Maintenance activities on production machinery will invariably involve additional hazards beyond those present in normal operation.

“Mr Brackenbury was put at risk by Heinz Ltd’s inadequate assessment of risks and lack of effective measures to stop access to dangerous parts of equipment.

“Sadly in this case Heinz failed to protect Mr Brackenbury while he was contracted to carry out maintenance work at their Westwick plant and, as a result, he has suffered a life-changing injury.”​  

Related topics: Ready-to-Eat, Regulation and safety

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