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Heinz ordered to pay nearly £60,000 in costs and fines after worker loses hand in accident at North Walsham factory

PUBLISHED: 12:12 17 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 17 May 2014

Floods. Walcott damage after the sea surges. Alec Brackenbury with his destroyed home.

Floods. Walcott damage after the sea surges. Alec Brackenbury with his destroyed home. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Food manufacturer Heinz has been ordered to pay a £50,000 fine and nearly £10,000 in costs after the company admitted health and safety breaches which led to a worker in the factory losing his right hand, in what Norwich Crown Court heard was a “life-changing” accident.

Food manufacturer Heinz has been ordered to pay nearly £60,000 in fines and costs after an accident at its factory in Westwick, near North Walsham, in which a self-employed electrician, lost his right hand when it got caught in machinery.

Norwich Crown Court heard how Alec Brackenbury, 48, was a electrical contractor carrying out planned maintenance work on a potato peeling machine, when he dropped a nut, and tried to retrieve it by putting his hand in a part of the machinery used to pump away slurry, believing the power was off, only for the machine to start up and sever his hand.

Claire Harden, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said a safety mesh guard was missing off the machinery, which allowed Mr Brackenbury to put his hand in the machinery, She said although power to the peeling machine was switched off, Mr Brackenbury was not aware the other machinery was still live, as he had been told that all the power was off.

She said after the accident he was rushed to hospital in an air ambulance but efforts to reattach the hand, sadly failed.

Heinz, admitted breaching health and safety regulations and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £9661 in costs.

The court heard that Heinz took the safety of its workers very seriously and had implemented even more rigorous procedures since the accident, on June 20 last year.

Michael Atkins, for Heinz, said: “The company takes these proceedings most seriously.”

He said the Westwick factory had a good safety record and after the accident had issued a bulletin to staff to tell them about the accident at the factory which makes frozen potato products for the Aunt Bessie range.

“The company was transparent about the facts of the accident and steps have been taken to put the matter right.”

He said one of the company’s mottos was “Nothing we do is worth getting hurt for.” and said it was an oversight that the mesh guard had been removed.

Sentencing the company, Judge Anthony Bate, said Heinz was a long established food manufacturer and household name and accepted they had offered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity.

He said that the accident had very grievous consequences for Mr Brackenbury, and hoped he could rebuild his life in some way.

“I wish him all the best in the future.”

After the case Mr Brackenbury’s solicitor Ian Comer issued a statement in which he said that Mr Brackenbury was pleased at the outcome.

He said that Mr Brackenbury’s life changed forever after the accident and Mr Brackenbury said: “Many everyday tasks that you would normally take for granted have become a logistical nightmare for me, things such as washing my face, tying my shoelaces and fastening a belt. Over and above this I have no idea whether I will ever be capable of working again. I am a maintenance engineer by trade and I ran my own micro brewery business. It is unlikely that I will be able to undertake this sort of work in the future.”

He said he was pursuing a legal claim through Mr Comer and added: “I hope now the HSE prosecution is out of the way the defendant’s insurers will now formally accept responsibility for my claim so that I can start putting my life back together.”

In another blow Mr Brackenbury was made homeless during the storms, in December, when his seafront caravan home in Walcott was swept away.

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