Bernard Matthews Fined £400,000 after Worker Left Paralysed

Food manufacturer Bernard Matthew’s has been fined £400,000 after an employee sustained a pierced left lung, several broken ribs, four fractured vertebrae and a spinal bleed after being drawn into a large screw conveyor.

He’d been tasked with cleaning a large screw conveyor used to move poultry turkeys along and chill them. While working on the gantry between the spin chillers he noticed a turkey stuck at the bottom of it and as he attempted to dislodge the turkey using a squeegee he was drawn into the machine. It was only when a colleague noticed that he was missing from the gantry and heard his cries for help, that the emergency stop was pulled.

The employee was left permanently paralysed and spent six months in hospital following an incident at the company’s Suffolk manufacturing plant. He was put in an induced coma for three weeks and is now classed as a T6 paraplegic and has been diagnosed with autonomic dysreflexia (AD).

Investigators from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found an unsafe system of work meant the chillers remained running as he went to dislodge the turkey.

There had been another incident at the same plant five months earlier when a turkey deboning line had to be shut down after developing a fault.

Whilst working on the surplus production line, one of the wings became stuck in the belt under the machine. An employee attempted to push it out of the way, but as he did do, his gloved hand became caught in the exposed sprocket of the conveyer and was drawn into the machine.

He was eventually freed and taken to hospital having suffered a broken arm and severe damage to the muscles in his forearm.

A subsequent investigation by the HSE found that on the day of the incident pre-start checks were only completed on the production lines that were regularly used.

The investigation uncovered that two safety guards had been removed and a team leader responsible for the production lines had verbally reported this issue to the engineering team, but it was not followed up by either party.

At Chelmsford Crown Court, Bernard Matthews Food Ltd admitted breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. As well as the £400,000 fine, the company was ordered to pay costs of £15,000.

‘Both incidents could have been avoided and the consequences were devastating,’ said HSE principal inspector Adam Hills after the hearing.

‘If Bernard Matthews had acted to identify and manage the risks involved and put a safe system of work in place they could have easily been prevented.

‘Fundamentally, you should not clean a machine while it is running.

‘Companies need to ensure that risk assessments cover activities including cleaning and blockages and that where appropriate, robust isolation and lock-off mechanisms are in place for these activities.

‘Prior to use you can put in place some pre-start checks and if faults such as missing guards are identified they need to be formally reported, tracked, rectified and closed out.’

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Steve Kilburn
Steve Kilburn
I initially trained as an industrial chemist working in a variety of manufacturing environments eventually moving into quality management which grew to encompass environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. I hold a Masters Degree in Health and Safety law and Environmental Law and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Waste Management and I am a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). In my spare time I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Stephen King, and listening to music, generally from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
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