Printing firm fined £112,500 over death of Morton worker Ian Ebbs

Ian Ebbs, who died in an accident in 2008 at a magazine publishing plant in St Ives
Ian Ebbs, who died in an accident in 2008 at a magazine publishing plant in St Ives

A PRINTING firm has been fined £112,500 after a father-of-two was crushed to death while repairing one of its machines.

Wyndeham Peterborough Ltd was also ordered to pay £80,000 costs at Peterborough Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which led to the death of maintenance engineer Ian Ebbs.

The 43-year-old, from Morton died on October 6, 2008, at the firm’s plant in Storey’s Bar Road, Fengate, Peterborough, when the paddle wheel assembly on a printing press he was trying to fix moved and landed on his chest.

At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Nic Madge ruled that failings by the company, which was then known as St Ives Peterborough Ltd, were a “significant cause” of Mr Ebbs’ death.

Coming to this conclusion, he said he had taken into account two previous “near misses” involving the same piece of equipment, in June 2008 and on September 23, 2008.

He said while the two incidents were caused by separate faults they both resulted in the paddle wheel assembly coming down, and he accepted the Health and Safety Executive’s case that a long-term solution to fix or catalogue the faults with the machine had not been sought by the firm.

He said: “I am satisfied so that I am sure that if a proper and effective risk assessment had been carried out, it would have shown that there were faults with that part of the machinery.

“There was a risk that the paddle wheel assembly would descend in a potentially dangerous way.

“In such circumstances, instructions would have been given to engineers not to enter the paddle wheel enclosure without first totally isolating the paddle wheel assembly or strapping it up.”

The firm pleaded guilty to breaching the section of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which states that “it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.

In mitigation, Judge Madge said he had taken into account the firm’s guilty plea, its co-operation with the Health and Safety Executive’s investigation, remedial steps put in place following Mr Ebbs’ death and the fact that it is a “well-run, long-established printing company, printing well-known and respected titles”.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Alison Ashworth said: “There had been two incidents in the months before Ian Ebbs’ death when machinery moved unexpectedly in the same enclosure, but the company failed to have effective procedures in place for capturing this information and failed to act on it.

“If they had, it is entirely possible that this fault could have been safely resolved, rather than leading to a man needlessly losing his life.

“The printing company relied too much on the skills and expertise of experienced staff like Ian Ebbs to sort out problems, rather than having proper systems in place to identify risks and control them.”

Wyndeham Peterborough Ltd refused to comment on the hearing.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Ebbs’ widow Jackie, 45, said she hoped the fine would help send a message to all employers.

She said: “The money has never been the issue, it has never been about that. I have always found that side of things very difficult because you can’t put a price on a life - I certainly can’t put a price on the life of my husband.

“What I have always wanted to do is send that message out to other companies, it won’t be cheaper to ignore health and safety.”

She said she was “very, very relieved” the judge had ruled the failings were a “significant cause” of her husband’s death.

She said: “All I ask is from Wyndeham and any other company is that they put measures in place so something like this never happens again to another family.”

A claim for compensation is being pursued separately.