Worker had finger amputated in accident at County Durham steel site

A steel reinforcing company’s “blatant disregard” for health and safety regulations, which played a part in two workers suffering serious finger injuries, has cost it almost GBP500,000 in fines and costs. Serious failings were found with two machines and a fork lift truck, putting employees at risk at Midland Steel Reinforcement’s former site at Bishop Auckland. Durham Crown Court heard that in the few weeks prior to a health and safety (HSE) inspector’s “chance” visit to the Greenfield Industrial Estate unit, in July 2019, a production operative suffered a broken finger using one machine and a second, an agency worker, suffered the amputation of the end of his index finger on his left hand on another piece of equipment.

The inspector found several failings in the way both machines were used at the site, with no guard rail fitted, despite being provided by the manufacturer, on one, while no interlocking gate was attached to the other machine, contrary to instructions in the operating manual. In both cases it allowed operators dangerous access to the machines, while they were still being used. Robert Stevenson, prosecuting for the HSE, said the inspector also found a defective fork lift truck was being used at the site, with no working brakes, a snapped off control lever having to be held in place by the driver, with no windscreen or side windows, and a tyre not properly fitted to the wheel.

The truck had also not been put through its annual vehicle examination, with the previous approval three months past its expiry date. Mr Stevenson said the company was aware of the defects, but, prior to the day of the inspector’s visit, had done nothing to rectify them. An improvement notice was served on one machine and prohibition notices issued, forbidding use of the other and the fork lift truck.

Mr Stevenson said risk assessments appeared to have been “inadequate”, as the company, “failed to identify obvious risks”, and had, “wider issues over safety procedures.” The court heard that steps were taken to comply with the various orders. Alexandra Tampakopoulos, for the company, said action was taken on the day of the inspector’s visit to secure a replacement fork lift truck.

She said Midland Steel, in operation since 2008, had not previously been in trouble and it was a matter, “of great regret” that these failings were allowed to happen. “It is particularly regretful for the injuries caused and it is determined there will be no repetition. “An incredible amount of hardworking, commitment and self-sacrifice has been put in to ensure the continuation of this company.

“The HSE went on an unannounced visit to its Motherwell site in Scotland in 2017 and it fully complied with health and safety provisions.” Ms Tampakopoulos said numerous changes have been made in the light of the failings found at the Bishop Auckland site, in 2019, with a new full-time health and safety manager employed, further training across the workforce and weekly health and safety meetings staged on top of the usual monthly one. “It’s been three years since these incidents and there have been no matters to attract the attention of the HSE.”

She said operations were initially “scaled back” at Bishop Auckland, but the plant has now closed. Midland Steel admitted five charges brought by the HSE. Recorder Dapinder Singh said there had been, “a blatant disregard” for health and safety issues at the site.

“It appears positive steps were taken to bypass safety features. “The company has not helped itself in the slightest and taken positive steps to breach health and safety rules.” He added that it was only a “by chance” visit to the site which brought the failings to light.

Read more: Safety breach on housing construction site at Wheatley Hill Recorder Singh said he did not want to fine the company to such an extent it would be put out of business. Having heard that its average profitability for the last three years is GBP287,000 per annum, he imposed a total fine of GBP450,000, with GBP41,239 costs and a GBP181 statutory surcharge.

He ordered it to be paid in six monthly instalments of GBP81,903. Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

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