Denton man crushed to death: Two companies fined £200,000 each over ‘significant’ safety breaches

By Ben Ireland & Jon Robinson

Two companies were fined £200,000 each yesterday for breaches of safety which led to a Denton machine operative being crushed to death in a hydraulic press.

Father-of-two Brian Miller, 38, was found by his brother, a fellow machine worker at WFEL Ltd, Heaton Chapel, having suffered fatal head injuries on January 12 2008.

Mr Miller was attempting to fix a fault in the machine’s switches when one of the large hydraulic rams descended on him, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed.

Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard WFEL and Dutch business Unisign Ltd gave programming codes, which should have only been for specialist maintenance staff, to their machine operatives.

Mr Miller used the codes to access the machine, which did not meet European safety standards, and it restarted at full-speed whilst he was inside.

In a family statement, his sister, Linda Smitham, 44, said: “Brian’s death has devastated us and leaves a massive hole in all our lives especially for his partner, Trish, who faces her future without him by her side.

“Our younger brother and dad have to live with the memory of what they witnessed at the factory that day.

“Lessons have been learnt from this tragedy and we hope no other family will have to suffer the pain and trauma from losing a loved one in the way we have.”

Judge Khokhar, in his summary, said both companies committed a ‘significant breach’ of HSE guidelines, but was quick to add that ‘it was not a case of the employer ignoring the obvious risks to save money’.

WFEL build military and tactical bridges for clients across the world.

The company directors were not made aware of the use of the codes by their staff.

WFEL’s safety inspector was aware the staff used the codes to open the door, but never saw anyone  go to the back of the machine by opening the door.

Neither company has any previous record of a breach in safety, and have made steps to ensure this problem will not be repeated again.

Unisign were due a payment of £10,500 from WFEL shortly after the accident, and gave this to the grieving Miller family.

Each company was ordered to pay a £200,000 fine and costs of the investigation and the prosecution.

HSE Inspector Philip Strickland said: “Unisign should not have supplied a machine which fell below accepted standards and did not have suitable guards and safety systems installed to protect workers.

“WFEL should have made sure its employees only fixed faults when the machine was in a safe state.”

Both companies were also ordered to pay costs, with Unisign instructed to pay £28,313.82 and WFEL were made to pay £28,074.82.

A quarter of all workplace deaths in 2011/12 took place in the manufacturing industry, despite the sector only accounting for around 10% of the British workforce.

Some 31 people lost their lives, with more than 17,000 injuries reported.

Picture courtesy of Colin Smith, with thanks.

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