Date: Saturday 6th November 2004

A FIRM was fined £24,000 after its factory manager had to have two toes amputated when a steel beam weighing a quarter of a ton fell on his foot and another worker fell from an unsafe scaffold tower in a separate incident on the same site.

A FIRM was fined £24,000 after its factory manager had to have two toes amputated when a steel beam weighing a quarter of a ton fell on his foot and another worker fell from an unsafe scaffold tower in a separate incident on the same site.

Alba Proteins Limited admitted failing to ensure the safety of employees at its Wildriggs plant at Penrith, including Haydn Davies and Roger Sing while they were carrying out a lifting operation on 5th November last year, and Rory Graham while he was unblocking filters on 20th January this year.

Miss Tania Van Rixtel, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told Eden magistrates, sitting at Penrith, on Friday, that Mr. Davies and Mr. Sing were seriously injured when the large structural beam fell from a sling which was supporting it.

They were carrying out work using a fork lift truck to create a mezzanine floor for a new workshop and office block at the poultry rendering plant which creates raw material used in pet food.

Mr. Sing, the factory manager who had been with the company for 12 years, was in charge of overseeing the work. When he arrived on the scene he noticed that the beam, which was elevated ready to be put in position, was the wrong way round and would have to be rotated.

Mr. Davies, a trained slinger, had entered the workshop to collect some tools for another job and decided to help. The sling was looped around the centre of the beam with the other end being hooked on to the forks of the truck.

During the manoeuvre to get the beam the right way round so it could be properly installed, the sling came off the end of the fork as it hadn’t been sufficiently tied in place. The beam knocked Mr. Davies out of the way, dislocating his shoulder, and Mr. Sing had to have two toes amputated after it fell on his foot.

No documented risk assessment had been carried out for the lifting manoeuvre, and there was nothing in place to prevent the beam coming out of the sling in which it was suspended. It should have also been made clear the beam could only be installed one way.

“Serious injury was caused to two employees that could quite easily have been fatal. The risk of the beam falling should have been foreseeable,” said Miss Van Rixtel.

Regarding the second accident at the factory, which was less than three months after the first, Miss Van Rixtel said another employee, Mr. Graham, suffered a fractured pelvis and grazes to his head and arm after he fell 9ft from an unsafe scaffold tower on to the concrete floor. He was off work for a month following the incident.


Mr. Graham had been asked to unblock filters, which were housed in the top half of the unit, by removing and cleaning them using a mobile scaffold tower which had been assembled by an engineer at the factory.

Miss Van Rixtel said two of the boards which had been used in the construction of the tower were slightly mouldy and one was split. Mr. Graham had to ask a colleague to help him as the filters were too large to be lowered by one person.

The tower rocked slightly as a filter was removed and Mr. Graham fell after a board slipped from underneath him. “For the whole time while men were working on the tower there was inadequate protection from a fall from height. There were at least three unguarded sites,” said Miss Van Rixtel, who added that the tower fell way below the required standard.

There were no written instructions about how to use the equipment and there should have been a written risk assessment with clear guidelines about how the work should be carried out.

The court was told a new scaffold tower had now been purchased by the company and five employees had received formal training on how to use it.


Mr. Gary Smith, defending, said the company accepted responsibility for what had occurred and they were incidents which the company regretted. However, he said, they had resulted from two senior members of the company making very questionable decisions.

There was an absence of risk assessments in relation to the two matters which were before the court, but there were 30 other assessments in place prior to the first incident, which the company accepted arose from a non-routine piece of work which should have been documented.

Regarding the second incident, Mr. Smith said the process of cleaning the filters had been done only once previously in the four years during which they had been in place. The company’s chief engineer was dismissed for “incompetence” following the incident.

“The risk assessment should have found that the scaffold was defective,” said Mr. Smith, who added that now a new scaffold had been bought there was no possibility of a similar incident occurring again.

He said that the company, formed in 1996, had 95 employees who were spread over three sites at Penrith, Halifax and Dumfries. The Penrith site was the smaller of the three with only 19 workers.

In 2001, the company was taken over by new owners and £3.5 million had been spent on modernising production and making environmental and safety improvements.

The managing director of Alba Proteins, Norman Watt, who was present in court for the hearing, was said to be “appalled” when he saw the state of the scaffold which had been used.

“A dedicated health and safety adviser is now being recruited,” said Mr. Smith, who added that the offences were very much an “isolated lapse”. The company had taken measures to ensure that offences of a similar nature never occured again.

In addition to the company being fined £12,000 for each accident it was ordered to pay a total of £3,348 in costs.