Firm fined after worker dragged through five inch gap

Ordeal: Matthew Lowe, 26, was dragged through a tiny gap.
Ordeal: Matthew Lowe, 26, was dragged through a tiny gap.
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TWO firms have been ordered to pay £115,000 in fines and legal costs after a South Yorkshire factory worker was dragged through a five-inch gap by a heavy machine.

Dad-of-one Matthew Lowe, aged 23 at the time, suffered a broken back, pelvis, both hips and ribs and his stomach and bowel were ruptured in the accident at Barnsley firm Compass Engineering Ltd.

Compass, based in Barugh Green, exposed Mr Lowe to a ‘foreseeable risk of serious injury’ when it failed to erect a safety guard around the machine, Sheffield Crown Court heard. Kaltenbach Ltd, the company which built and installed the machine, was also at fault, the court heard.

Mr Lowe, now aged 26, said it was only the thought of his young daughter Evie that kept him going through the horrific ordeal.

Speaking outside court, Mr Lowe, of Coltfield, Birdwell, said: “If it wasn’t for my daughter and my partner Kim I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.

“When I was lying on the ground I just thought, I’ve got to get through this, my daughter can’t grow up without a dad.”

He added: “Too many people are needlessly killed and injured in accidents at work.

“If hearing my story makes employers think twice about safety and about the daily risks they face in the work place, then I’ll be happy.”

Mr Lowe was learning how to use the machine, which cut and drilled heavy steel beams, when the accident happened in December 2008.

Samuel Green, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told the court: “If guarding had been installed the accident would not have happened.

“The prosecution say by failing to take the most basic and elementary precautions to erect a fence, Compass exposed its employees to a foreseeable risk of serious injury.”

Mr Green said the machine dragged beams from a yard into the factory, where they were automatically measured for cutting and drilling.

He said Mr Lowe leant over to look through a gap between the machine and the factory wall, to check that a beam was properly connected.

As he looked through the gap the trainee did not see a part of the machine moving behind his back.

Mr Green said: “He did not see the measuring head moving back to its home position in the yard.

“It struck Mr Lowe on the back. He was pushed at first, then dragged through the five-inch gap as the measuring head continued its slow but relentless way through the gap.”

He said Mr Lowe underwent an emergency operation that day, before further surgery and rehabilitation lasting months.

Mr Green said Compass breached health and safety laws because it failed to put in place a guard. The manufacturer, Bedford-based Kaltenbach, was at fault because it signed off a safety certificate for the machinery without the barriers in place.

James Ageros, representing Kaltenbach, said the firm was guilty of an ‘error of judgement’ after it agreed Compass could install its own safety barriers.

Compass’s barrister Julian Goose said the rails had not been installed because of ‘an oversight’. He said the firm had paid Mr Lowe’s wages throughout his treatment and re-employed him as a site supervisor.

Judge Robert Moore, sentencing, said: “This was a very foreseeable accident and it was only a matter of time before something like it happened. There was an inadequate design with inadequate guarding.”

Compass was ordered to pay a £45,000 fine plus £24,000 in costs, while Kaltenbach was fined £30,000 with £16,000 in costs.