A SCRAP metal company and a businessman have been fined for serious safety breaches after a man lost both his legs in an horrific baling machine accident.
The 42-year-old worker, Peter Sarniak from Hastings, was dealing with a problem inside the five-metre long baler at H Ripley & Co’s site in Westfield when the doors of the 16-tonne machine began to close.
He tried to use a remote control to stop them, but it failed to respond.
The worker, now living in Pontypool, Wales, made a desperate attempt to escape in the remaining seconds, but the force of the jaws hit his legs as he scrambled away.
He was trapped for around 45 minutes before being released and airlifted to hospital.
One leg was severed and the other severely crushed and was amputated later in hospital.
One doctor who attended the scene described the man’s injuries as “horrific”.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated the incident, on 24 May 2011, found the company’s isolation procedure for the baler was totally inadequate.
It also found the remote control, built by co-defendant John Platt, of Thakeham, West Sussex, was seriously flawed.
Lewes Crown Court heard that it was possible for the baler, used to compact scrap metal, to take only one minute and 15 seconds to go from ‘car to cube’. The maximum force of its doors was some 180 tonnes.
HSE’s investigation identified that a lack of suitable controls meant workers were able to get too close to the crushing and shearing hazards presented by the machine.
H Ripley & Co, which has three sites in East Sussex and two in Kent, had bought the baling machine in 2008 second-hand and fire-damaged and needed to get the radio control system re-built.
HSE found the remote control, manufactured and installed by John Platt, had several serious flaws.
As a result, once the baler doors started closing, the remote control failed to activate to stop them. In addition the remote was not robust enough for the demands of working in a scrap metal yard.
On Monday (June 24) H Ripley & Co of North Street, Hailsham, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £34,633 in full costs after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
John Platt, t/a John Platt Services of Bramble Lane, Thakeham, West Sussex, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 6(1) of the same Act. He was fined £10,000 with £5,000 to pay toward costs.
After the court hearing, HSE Inspector Stephen Green said: “This was a horrific incident in which a worker suffered the loss of both legs, endured a sixth-month period in hospital and who will now spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
“It was also entirely preventable, H Ripley & Co had completely neglected to consider the risks and identify control measures needed to operate the machine safely. It had failed to ensure that there was a system to isolate the machine from power before anyone could get inside.
“It appears that no thought was given to the safety aspects of the remote units for the baler or the way they worked. Had original remotes been sourced or had John Platt manufactured fully functional alternatives, it is likely the incident would not have happened.
“There are well-known and significant risks in the waste and recycling sector and it is imperative that employers fully identify and recognise those risks on their sites and take the necessary action to protect their workforce from the dangers they present.”