TWO employees suffered third degree burns because of inadequate safety systems, a court has heard.
Sian Jones and Matthew Done were injured at Meadow Foods, Rough Hill, Chester when water at 70 degrees centigrade burst out of the the tank they were cleaning.
Chester Crown Court heard yesterday that Sian Jones suffered third degree burns to her whole body and Matthew Done suffered third degree burns to his back and left arm.
The independent dairy, with an annual turnover of £340 million, had earlier admitted two counts of breaching health and safety regulations.
The company, which employs 109 staff at its Chester site and also has plants in Yorkshire and Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, pleaded guilty at West Cheshire Magistrates Court in December to failing to ensure the safety of its employees and failing to provide employees with adequate instructions and information about operating equipment. The firm was committed to crown court for sentence where it was fined £54,000 and ordered to pay court costs of £18,553.
Prosecuting counsel Jonathan Rogers said on October 26, 2011, Sian Jones was instructed by a supervisor to clean part of a complicated system of pipes, valves and filters through which heated butter passed.
“Valves needed to be opened and closed in a particular sequence and there were no detailed instructions or information at all as to how that should be done,” said Mr Rogers.
The tank should have been filled to a maximum of two thirds but Ms Jones, who was described by fellow employees as a diligent and competent worker, filled the tank to the brim as she had been instructed to do previously.
Matthew Done, who was working with Ms Jones, opened a valve and compressed air which had built up within the system had nowhere to escape.
With no safety valve, “a wave of hot water shot out of the top and rained down on top of them, badly scalding the employees”, Mr Rogers said.
Health and Safety Executive officials who investigated the burns incident found the systems for ensuring employees’ safety to have been flawed for as long as nine or 10 years. Failings included an absence of written instructions on or near the machinery and whether a rigorous system of checking procedures were carried out properly.
As a result of the accident Sian Jones was admitted to the burns unit in Whiston Hospital on Merseyside where she was treated for a week.
Fiona Horlick, defending, said the company which had a net profit of £7m in 2012, was not a multi-national but a partly family-run private company with four shareholders – Simon Chantler, Josephine Pickering, son Alec Pickering and finance director Damien McDonald.
The company was a very good local employer with many long-serving staff members. It had a commitment to its staff and she rejected a prosecution assertion that the incident was “an accident waiting to happen”.
She said the accident had been isolated, could only have happened in particular circumstances and had been as the result of an error rather than any deliberate failure to comply.
The company did have health and safety systems in place, although it was accepted they had proved to be inadequate.
Since the accident, said Miss Horlick, the company had fully complied with investigating bodies, had introduced a series of measures to ensure a similar incident did not recur and had compensated the victims, both of whom had now returned to work.
Both employees retained some scarring – Ms Jones on her back and in two other places, although not in places that would be visible when she was clothed, and Mr Done on his back and arm – but Ms Horlick said neither had received the more serious type of injuries sometimes associated with accidents at work.
Summing up, Judge Andrew Menary QC said the company had been found to have inadequate systems by which to ensure the safety of employees, in particular in the level of training and monitoring of systems. “This placed employees at serious risk of harm.”