Soup company sentenced over worker’s life-changing injuries

One of the UK’s most well-known food manufacturers was today sentenced after a worker suffered severe injuries while working on one of its production lines.

Baxters Food Group appeared at Elgin Sheriff Court after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found safety failings related to the incident.

The court heard that on 30 January 2014, short term contract worker Jodie Cormack, climbed onto the conveyor belt to clear potatoes into the auger in-feed, but slipped from the belt into the collecting hopper.

Elgin Sheriff CourtHis body was pulled into the auger and he was trapped for an hour while orthopaedic surgeons and other emergency services battled to free him. Once freed, he was flown by air ambulance to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for emergency treatment.

His right foot was partially amputated and he underwent a number of operations including the insertion of a metal plate and screws. However, his left foot could not be saved and he underwent a below the knee amputation of his left leg. He now wears a prosthetic leg.

The incident occurred within the steam peeling department at Baxters’ site in Fochabers. The department is the initial preparation line for vegetables for soup production.

The Sheriff was told that on the steam peeling line, the various different types of vegetables needed to be kept separate. To move the last few vegetables of the 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.

On that day, as the batch of potatoes came to an end, Mr Cormack put the squeegee over the edge of the hopper and once he’d stopped the conveyor belt climbed onto it to retrieve the squeegee to push the remaining potatoes off the conveyor belt and into the auger.

At this time the conveyor belt was switched off but the auger was still running. Mr Cormack approached close to the end of the conveyor belt and as he turned to go back and collect the last of the potatoes his left foot slipped and was pulled into the auger.

The court heard Baxters failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which workers were exposed when they were engaged in the task of clearing vegetables from the conveyor belt. It also failed to reasonably provide and maintain plant and a system of work for the task that was safe, and failed to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as was necessary to ensure, the health and safety at work of employees carrying out that the task.

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

Baxters Food Group Limited 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.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Penny Falconer said:

“This tragic incident was entirely avoidable. Augers are known to be the cause of serious accidents when limbs are drawn in.

“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.”