Tullis Russell Papermakers fined after worker crushed by runaway reel

Tullis Russell Papermakers has been fined £50,000 after a worker was injured in a work practice branded “Heath Robinson-esque” by the Sherrif in court.

Winderman Steven Thompson had his pelvis and groin crushed by a runaway four-tonne paper reel during a night shift at the Fife papermaker on 14 August 2013.

He was working with a forklift driver to split paper reels when he was crushed between the reel and a factory wall, leading to severe injuries.

Her Majesty's inspector of heath and safety and case inspector Karen Moran said there were several safe and recognised ways to split reels that had become interwoven but that the paper mill appeared to use none of them.

“The guidance is very specific. Dropping [the reels] from a height is not one of them, letting them go and letting them run into other reels of paper is not one of them,” Moran said.

“Any and every technique had been used. There wasn’t a specific written-down safe risk assessment that the company had.”

Instead staff had used a variety of risky methods, including releasing a reel from a forklift truck in the hope it would split when it hit the floor, which sometimes led to the reel rolling away at speed. This time Thompson got in the way.

“Steven Thompson ended up getting crushed between between a wall and a reel of paper," Moran added. "He sustained serious injuries to his pelvis and groin area. He has had to have metal plates put in. He is still having operations now and he is still under medical care.”

Sitting in Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court, Sheriff James Williamson said: "These practices are Heath Robinson-esque” before handing down the fine after a hearing on 26 January.

The fine which was reduced from £75,000 because the company pleaded guilty, under Section 76 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Since Tullis Russell Papermakers is now in administration and its affairs are in the hands of KMPG, the court will join the former papermaker's long list of unsecured creditors.

Moran said the fine was not expected to be paid.

Before the company folded in April last year it complied with a safety notice served by the Health & Safety Executive and put safety systems in place.

Moran added: “This would not have happened if the company had followed the guidance for managing paper safely - HSG279 - which was updated last year. Companies must ensure any risks are assessed and ensure that there is a safe system of work in place and that people are trained and competent to follow these safe systems of work.”