Thursday, August 14, 2003

Employer cooks man

The Guardian story

A court heard how Paul Clegg, 23 (the same age as me) died of heat inside a 40ft long industrial washing machine at work. He had climbed into the device to release sheets caught in the mechanism.

"Paul Clegg, 23, was caught inside for more than two hours because other staff did not know there was an escape hatch on the 13-metre long machine. It washed at up to 75C (167F), and had been running shortly before climbed into it on March 21.

Coroner Sheriff Payne told the Bournemouth inquest that staff called the fire brigade when it became clear their colleague was struggling to get out. Fire commander Tim Spring arrived at 9.38am when Mr Clegg was still conscious. "I asked on three or four occasions if there was an access panel. They said there was not," he told the inquest."

The fire brigade were strongly assured by none other than the engineer on duty that the only possible solution was to cut through the shell of the machine, which they did. But by the time they had cracked it open there was nothing to be done for him. And this is why.

"David Lewis, engineer on duty at Sunlight Textile Services in Bournemouth, told the inquest he had no qualifications and learned about the machine "on the job". There was no written procedure for entering the machine, or a set time to allow it to cool first. He confirmed he was one of those unable to answer the fire commander, as he had not known there was an escape hatch.

Questioned by Christopher Orchard, the solicitor representing Mr Clegg's family, Mr Lewis said there was a manual, but he had not read it and had never been asked to do so."

Well, it is a cliche that people never RTFM, but it's not a very good reason to become a killer.

"The laundry's chief engineer, Jim McGuirk, on a health and safety committee which met monthly, told the inquest jurors, to gasps from Mr Clegg's family, that he, too, did not know of any access panel."

Given the rest of the case, not knowing would be a good idea...anyway, it goes to show that whatever gabble about "elf-an-safedy" the government comes up with, and however many signs are stuck up on the walls, unless there are effective sanctions either by inspection or by trade-union organisation there will be no effect. Very likely the laundry had bits of paper and signs, enough not to breach the Health and Safety at Work Act, but such legislation only protects the guilty from civil actions unless it is enforced.

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