Baxters sentenced over worker’s injury

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Baxters was found guilty of serious safety failings
Baxters was found guilty of serious safety failings

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Baxters Food Group has been fined £60,000 after a worker suffered “life-changing injuries” caused by an accident on one of its production lines.

The soup firm was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for serious safety failings, following its investigation into the accident in the steam peeling department at Baxters’ site in Fochabers on January 30 2014.

Short-term contract worker Jodie Cormack slipped into a collecting hopper, after climbing onto a conveyor belt leading into an auger in-feed to clear a blockage of potatoes.

The worker, whose body was pulled into the auger, was trapped for an hour while orthopaedic surgeons and other emergency services battled to free him. He was later flown by air ambulance to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness for emergency surgery.

After his right foot was partially amputated, he had a number of operations, including the insertion of a metal plate and screws. But after surgeons decided his left foot could not be saved,  his lower leg was amputated below the knee. Cormack now wears a prosthetic leg.

The court was told different types of vegetables needed to be kept separate on the initial preparation line for vegetables for soup production. To move the last few vegetables of a batch, operators used a ladder to access the conveyor belt and then used a squeegee to push the vegetables over the end of the conveyor into the auger.

Pulled into the auger

On the day of the accident the worker put the squeegee over the edge of the hopper and, after stopping the conveyor, climbed onto it to retrieve the squeegee. As he tried to push the last of the potatoes into the hopper his left foot slipped and was pulled into the auger, which was still running.

Baxters had failed to sufficiently assess the risks to workers when they were clearing vegetables from the conveyor belt, the court was told. The manufacturer also failed to provide and maintain plant and a system of work for the task that was safe. It had also failed to provide sufficient information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure, the health and safety at work of employees carrying out that the task.

The company was also recently prosecuted for a previous accident in which a worker received hand injuries when his fingers were drawn between the rollers of a conveyor.

After the hearing HSE inspector Penny Falconer said the tragic accident was entirely avoidable. “Augers are known to be the cause of serious accidents when limbs are drawn in,”​ she said.

‘Should have been aware of the risks’

“Baxters Food Group should have been aware of the risks involved in clearing the conveyor and the precautions that needed to be taken to prevent access to the auger. It is clear that supervisors and management had not considered how this task was being done.”

Baxters Food Group Ltd of Highfield House, Fochabers, Moray admitted breaching Section 2(1) and Section 33(1) (a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at and was fined £60,000.

Peter McLuckie, Baxters’ group legal and compliance director, told “The welfare and safety of our employees is our number one priority. We deeply regret the injury and distress caused to Mr Cormack. He has now returned to work with our full support and an ongoing commitment to assist him in continuing his role within the company.”

"We accept the ruling of today’s case and have worked hard to make improvements to our existing processes and training procedures to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.”

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