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Food waste recycler sentenced over cooker death

A food waste recycling and animal rendering company has been fined £660,000 after a worker died trying to repair an industrial cooker.

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Self-employed contractor Mark Bullock, of Stoke-on-Trent, was working inside the cooker at John Pointon & Sons when the incident happened in November 2011.

Steam entered the area where Bullock was working from elsewhere in the system, badly scalding him and he died in hospital the next day.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found John Pointon & Sons had not properly considered the risks of entering the cooker, failed to put in place a safe system of work, and did not competently manage the work as it was taking place.

The company was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay £187,632 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Stafford Crown Court heard that in 2004 another employee was killed at the same Cheddleton site when he entered a confined space without proper precautions being taken.

After sentencing, HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “Steam and hot vapours getting into the cookers from other connected pieces of equipment is foreseeable, and precautions should have been taken to ensure all avenues which had the potential to allow steam to be fed back into the cooker had been suitably isolated.

“Work in confined spaces can be extremely dangerous, which John Pointon & Sons was fully aware of, having already had a fatality at the site. Companies must identify what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of their workforce. I would urge any company that carries out work in confined spaces to double-check their procedures.”

The company said in a statement: “All at John Pointon & Sons deeply regret the tragic death of Mark Bullock who was a much-loved and highly regarded colleague.

“We have long worked hard to ensure a safe workplace for all those working on-site, and our real and genuine effort leading to a much improved approach to health and safety was recognised by the judge today but, ultimately, Mark was let down on this occasion, with the tragic consequences that followed.

“Since the accident, we have invested even more heavily in health and safety systems, working closely with expert external consultants and specialist training providers, including the Health & Safety Laboratory, to achieve the highest possible standards across the site.”

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