Alec – known as Alf – Brackenbury, from Bacton, Norfolk, was servicing the machine at Heinz’s Westwick manufacturing plant in Station Road, Worstead, Norfolk, on the first day of a maintenance shutdown on June 20 2013.
The accident happened as he tried to retrieve a dropped bolt from the peeling machine, which he thought was electrically isolated. When he reached into the slurry pump, it started working, severing his hand.
Brackenbury spent two weeks in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and has had eight operations on the stump of his hand. Now unable to drive, he cannot work or carry out many day-to-day activities.
Heinz was prosecuted for safety failings by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on Friday (May 16) at Norwich Magistrates’ Court.
The court heard that the self-employed engineer was servicing a machine used to remove skins from potatoes, on which he had worked before.
The ‘brush and belt’ peeler was electrically isolated and locked by both Heinz and the engineer before he began work.
When stripping the peeler down, he dropped a bolt which he thought fell through the peeler into a slurry pump. This was a single cavity pump with a screw auger at the bottom, which removes waste water and peelings. The auger sliced through his wrist when the peeler started working unexpectedly.
While the engineer believed he had isolated the slurry pump, along with the peeler, at the main distribution box, it was, in fact, a separate machine with its own power supply and isolation point, according to an HSE investigation.
Own power supply
A protective grate, bolted on top of the pump to prevent access, was missing, allowing the engineer to reach into the machine and contact the screw auger.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Tony Brookes, said: “Alf Brackenbury suffered an horrific injury in an incident that was wholly avoidable.
“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.”
Brookes said it was the employer’s duty to ensure employees and contractors carried out work safely. “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,” he added.
H J Heinz Manufacturing Ltd of Hayes Park, Hayes, Middlesex, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
Meanwhile, maintenance and cleaning is the biggest cause of food factory accidents, according to the HSE.