Pet food firm director avoids jail after teenage worker loses finger on first day

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

The firm's director was given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months. Credit: Getty / Marilyn Nieves
The firm's director was given a six-month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months. Credit: Getty / Marilyn Nieves

Related tags health & safety

The director of a dog food manufacturer was given a suspended prison sentence this month (October 2023) after a teenage boy lost his finger on his first day of work.

The new starter was 16 when the incident occurred on 15 July 2020, having just taken up a role at a Finer By Nature factory in Hereford.

The boy had his middle finger sliced off while he assisted another work who was operating a food processing machine that is used to package dog food.

As a result, the firm’s director, Gary Pitchford, was given a six-month custodial sentence, which was suspended for a period of 12 months by Kidderminster Magistrates Court. The company was also fined £34,000 and has been ordered to pay £4,564.15 in costs.

The young worker had been instructed to stand on a ladder and put his hand into the machine in order to scrape into the base, despite the presence of dangerous moving parts. This led to his middle finger being severed and the boy having to spend six days in hospital and undergo two operations.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that Finer By Nature had not made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks associated with the action the boy was instructed to take, and that Pitchford had neglected his responsibility to manage the safety of his employees using the machine.

The firm pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) and 3(4) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Regulation 11(1) Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, while Pitchford pleaded guilty to breaching Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

‘Huge emotional effect’

In a statement to the court, the male, now 19, said: “The emotional effect on me has been huge. At 16-years-old I felt so self-conscious, and this stopped me socialising, especially around strangers as they would always ask about my stump. I became very snappy with people including my own family because the trauma of what had happened upset me so much, it affected my mood and behaviour​.

“I was experiencing flashbacks and phantom pains in my finger at night-time. Any sound that went snap caused a major flashback because I remember hearing the bone in my finger snap in the machine. I have never returned to the place where this happened, I actually don’t even go down the road where the factory is, the thought of it all still makes me feel sick and faint​.”

HSE inspector Sara Lumley, added: “This incident occurred on the first day of this young person’s work. The machine was adequately guarded, and correct use of the guard would easily have been prevented this incident. The risks should have been identified before the machine was used.

“Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery. The sentence handed out should act as a reminder to all employers that they will be punished if they don’t protect their workers.”

In other news, UK potato supplier Branston has announced that it is opening a new mash potato facility at its main site in Lincoln​.

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