HSE inspector Charles Linfoot singled out the sector for criticism, after the successful prosecution of Bakkavör at Westminster magistrates’ court.
“Food production has one of the worst safety records within the manufacturing sector,” said Linfoot. “Companies must ensure that machinery is adequately guarded at all times to ensure the risk of contact with moving machinery is minimised.”
Magistrates heard that 58 year-old Sushila Patel had lost the tip of a finger in an unguarded dough-proving machine at the firm’s pizza factory in Harrow. As line leader, Patel was responsible for technical and quality control checks and covered for staff absences.
The top of a middle finger was sliced off when she was asked to pick up dough balls that kept dropping out of the prover machine due to a fault. The guard on the machine was normally locked but on the day of the accident, August 22 2012, was wide open.
When Patel reached inside to pick up the fallen dough balls, her right middle finger became caught between a moving chain and a sprocket, badly slicing the tip.
A HSE investigation revealed that a lockable guard on the machine had been left open. This offered employees using the machine no protection from contact with dangerous moving parts.
Despite treatment at the Royal Free Hospital, Patel’s middle finger is now shorter and causes pain and numbness.
Speaking after the hearing, Linfoot said: “Bakkavör Foods had a duty to ensure its employees were protected from the dangerous moving parts of the prover machine. The lack of control resulted in an employee suffering a painful and debilitating injury.
“The fact that a lockable guard was removed highlights poor supervision of staff. The incident could have been prevented had the company rectified the machine fault and ensured guarding was effective at all times.”
Similar machinery guarding problems
The HSE had dealings with Bakkavör regarding safety management failings in recent years, added Linfoot. One incident even involved similar machinery guarding problems at another site.
Bakkavör Foods was fined £20,000, the maximum fine magistrates were able to impose. The firm was also told to pay £12,484 in costs after admitting a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
A spokesman for the firm told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “As a major food producer, Bakkavör takes health and safety extremely seriously and we acknowledge the decision made by Westminster Magistrate’s Court in respect of a health and safety breach at our Harrow site.
“We sincerely regret the injuries sustained by the employee concerned. We strive to ensure that every employee at Bakkavör works in a safe environment and have undertaken a thorough investigation into this incident to seek to prevent any similar occurrences in the future.”
The HSE warned food manufacture had a rate of reported major injury nearly twice the rate for manufacturing as a whole.
General manufacturing accounted for about 10% of the British workforce in 2011/12. But the sector recorded 25% of fatalities and 16% of reported injuries to employees, with 31 deaths and nearly 17,500 injuries.