Lincoln Magistrates’ Court heard that AH Worth Ltd (formerly known as QV Foods Ltd) purchased a new potato processing line in 2018. However, the purchase, installation and commissioning work was carried out after inadequate planning, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
During commissioning, the Microsoak – a substance used by the line to prevent potatoes from browning – gave off sulphur dioxide gas that affected workers in the packhouse.
AH Worth made modifications to the line to attempt to cure the problem, but it caused the nozzles on the line to repeatedly block up and more sulphur dioxide to be given off. A maintenance engineer attempting to unblock the nozzles on the 11 June 2018 was badly exposed to the sulphur dioxide.
The factory had to be evacuated and other workers in the vicinity were also affected. The maintenance engineer and another worker were so badly affected that they were not able to return to work due to the effects of the gas on their lungs.
An investigation by the HSE found that poor planning at every stage of the potato lines installation and operation had led to the problems experiences by the manufacturer.
It also found that maintenance workers and those on the line had not be provided with adequate information, instruction and training about the new line and what to do. There was also no safe system of work in place for unblocking the nozzles and the workers should have been provided with additional personal protective equipment.
AH Worth Ltd of Manor Farm Holbeach Hurn, Spalding, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in that it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of its employees.
£300k fine and costs
The company was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9924.90 with a victim surcharge of £170.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Martin Giles said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to plan properly for the introduction of new plant and equipment.
“It made alterations to the new plant without adequate thought and planning, failed to implement safe systems of work and failed to react adequately when things started to go wrong.”
Meanwhile, in July, meat wholesaler Coldconnection Ltd has been fined £14,000 after repeated failures to maintain safety devices on food processing machinery.