Serious injury to factory worker after "desperately serious" breaches of conveyor safety

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An employee at a coat hanger factory was almost killed when her hair and scarf became entangled in the chain and drive of a conveyor.

Accident at Work

The Magistrates' Court heard that the worker suffered serious neck and throat injuries in April 2009 at a factory which makes and recycles coat hangers for supermarkets.

The worker's ponytail became entangled in a conveyor which was inadequately guarded, causing the 24 year-old to suffer serious injury and the loss of her hair.

In response to charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the company admitted failing to provide proper instruction, to prevent access to dangerous machinery parts and to provide an emergency stop button.

The court was told that the training received by the injured employee, an agency worker hired to sort, de-label and pack coat hangers, did not cover the dangers of working with conveyors.

To prevent blockages on the conveyor, workers were said to devise their own systems. Trying to rectify a blockage on her first day on the line, the worker's scarf became entangled as she bent down.

"She was in a state of great distress as she tried to free herself with her left hand but to no avail," the prosecuting counsel said. "Her little finger was trapped, fractured and almost severed."

Calling for help, she was only released when a co-worker was able to switch off the main power button. Her injuries included a crushed and twisted larynx, scarred oesophagus, trachea and epiglottis, a fractured little finger and other major injuries. Her hair had also been torn from her head.

Emergency services took her to the hospital, where she stayed for 3 months receiving a number of surgical procedures. The court heard she was left with disabilities which continue to affect her.

The prosecution counsel said the dangers of conveyors and moving parts were well known and that every year there were accidents causing fatal and serious injury.

The accident, which was foreseeable and avoidable, had caused the worker to be scarred for life. "Although this incident had the potential to kill, serious injury rather than death resulted from the company's breaches of regulations."

The District Judge who heard the case said that the maximum penalty of £20,000 available in the magistrates' court was insufficient, and the company would be committed for sentence to the crown court the following month.

Describing the consequences to the victim as "utterly appalling", the judge said the company's safety breaches had been "desperately serious".


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