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'Multiple failings' led to workers’ deaths at Sonae UK

Two North West companies have been fined a total of £410,000 following the death of two workers at a Merseyside waste wood processing facility.

James Bibby, 25, and Thomas Elmer, 27, were both killed in December 2010 when carrying out maintenance work on a conveyor belt at the Sonae Industria factory in Kirkby.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that both men, employed at the time by Metso Paper, were dragged into the machinery at the plant after it unexpectedly started to operate.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found multiple failings by both companies to properly assess the risks associated with the work Bibby and Elmer were carrying out.

Following the case, HSE’s principal inspector Mike Sebastian said: “This is perhaps the most horrific case I have ever had to deal with and has had a devastating effect on both families.

“Carrying out straightforward risk assessments is about protecting workers from serious harm, suffering life-changing injuries or, in this tragic case, death.

“If both companies had put in place the simple steps to protect their workers’ safety these two young men would still be with us today.”

HSE said Sonae did not properly assess the risks associated with the work on the conveyor nor shared these with contractors.

The firm did not have in place a proper process for managing contractors or a procedure for isolating dangerous machinery, according to HSE, and failed to train or check the competence of the workers.

It was fined £220,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Valmet Ltd, which took over Metso in 2013, was prosecuted for failing to ensure the site had sufficient risk assessments and processes in place.

The firm also failed to ensure its workers and contractors had adequate training for the tasks to be carried out and did not provide them with the necessary information.

It was fined £190,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The Sonae factory closed in September 2013 after two fires and other health and safety issues.

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