Firms fined £650,000 over worker's death

By Benedict O'ConnorTWO companies have been fined £650,000 for “fundamental safety flaws” at a factory that led to an employee being crushed to death.

By Benedict O'Connor

TWO companies have been fined £650,000 for “fundamental safety flaws” at a factory that led to an employee being crushed to death.

Lorraine Waspe, 40, was knocked down and run over by a 15-tonne shovelling vehicle in February 2003 at the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds, where she worked as a despatch clerk.

A court heard pedestrians should not have been allowed in the animal feed warehouse where Mrs Waspe, from Great Finborough, worked and where the 11ft high vehicle that knocked her down operated.

British Sugar was fined £400,000 yesterday after pleading guilty to two breaches of health and safety relating to the failure to identify and implement adequate safety measures in the workplace.

It also admitted another breach of health and safety and one relating to inadequate safety measures on lifting equipment.

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Contractor VM Plant Ltd ­- which was responsible for the animal feed loading contract in the part of the factory where the accident took place - was fined £250,000 after a jury at Bury St Edmunds Crown Court found it guilty of two charges of failing to ensure adequate safety measures.

Passing sentence, Judge John Holt said: “These safety breaches were caused by fundamental flaws of the management at the Bury factory to know what was going on in the workplace, to know how to assess safety risks.”

Instead of any set practices Judge Holt added it seemed “employees were left to develop their own systems, which were hopelessly inadequate”.

The court was told that following Mrs Waspe's death, Health and Safety Executive investigations had led to three areas of the factory being closed while improvements were made.

British Sugar had two previous convictions for breaching safety rules, for which it had been fined a total of £12,500, but since Mrs Waspe's death £8million had been spent on safety improvements, the court heard.

Kevin de Haan QC, mitigating for British Sugar, apologised “unreservedly” to Mrs Waspe's family and to the general public for the safety lapses.

Although no civil case has been brought by Mrs Waspe's family, Mr de Haan said any compensation claim would be considered “sympathetically and promptly”.

Speaking after the hearing, British Sugar director Karl Carter said the Bury St Edmunds factory had a good safety record, but he admitted mistakes had been made.

“Lorraine Waspe was a very conscientious and popular member of staff and our sympathy is with Lorraine's family and colleagues,” he said.

“Throughout this investigation British Sugar has fully co-operated with the Health and Safety Executive. Changes have been made in all our operating sites to ensure accidents of this type never happen again.”

Health and Safety Executive investigator Frank Sykes, said he was satisfied with the fine, which reflected the seriousness of the offences.

He described the conditions that he discovered at the factory as “very poor” and “worrying”, but added vast improvements had since been made.

Mrs Waspe's family declined to comment. VM Plant has gone into liquidation and offered no defence at the trial and no-one from the company attended the hearing.


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