Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Crush death firm fined 100,000

A pet food firm has been fined £100,000 after one of its workers was crushed to death in a machine at a Northamptonshire factory.

John O'Connor, 38, from Rugby, Warwickshire, was killed on 17 November 2003 when he climbed into a palletising machine to clear a blockage.

Butcher's Pet Care Ltd, based in Crick, admitted breaching health and safety at Northampton Crown Court.

The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £28,380.91 costs.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The machine is used to take cans of pet food from conveyor belts and stack them in layers on pallets.

Crushed in seconds

Mr O'Connor climbed through a gap in railings around the machine to reposition a blocked pallet in the factory on Crick Industrial Estate.

When it was freed a motorised pallet hoist raised and crushed him in less than two seconds, the court heard.

The machine is fully automatic and operated by sensors.

It should have been fully enclosed with an interlock system to prevent anyone gaining access until the power was shut off.

Simon Antrobus, for the company, said the family-run business had a £50m turnover with annual profits of £3m to £5m.

Since the accident he said the company had totally enclosed the machines and had revised its safety procedures.

Passing sentence, Judge Richard Bray said that using the gap had been a widespread practice by employees at the business.

He said it was used by employees, team leaders and was "condoned" by shift managers.

'Good family man'

"Employees felt under pressure to deal with blockages in this way so the production line could be kept running", he said.

HSE inspector for Northamptonshire Neil Craig said: "This tragic loss of life could have been so easily avoided.

"This was far from this being an isolated incident. The unfenced gap between the stair rails had been there for nearly two years.

"Any of the workers could have suffered the same fate as Mr O'Connor.

"I can only hope that this tragedy and the conviction of Butchers Pet Care Ltd will serve to remind employers to check that measures to protect workers are not just in place, but are effective."

After the case Mr O'Connor's mother Mary Rippon said the last six years had been terrible.

She described her son as "hard working and a good family man".

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