Northern Ireland

Linden Foods fined after employee seriously injured

linden food group
Image caption The company said it deeply regretted what had happened

Linden Foods has been fined £25,000 over an accident which left one of its employees with serious head injuries.

Lucas Da Costa, 42, who is originally from East Timor, was struck by falling pallets at the company's factory in Dungannon in February 2010.

The company pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety.

The judge said Mr Da Costa had suffered a serious debilitating brain injury which would affect him and his family for the rest of his life.

Omagh Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that Mr Da Costa had worked for the company as a stores operative since January 2008.

He was trying to lift a single pallet when pallets which were stacked three high behind that fell on top of him.

The truck he was using did not have any overhead protection and they landed on him, leaving him with severe brain injuries to such an extent that he now lives in a nursing home and cannot communicate in any way or do things for himself.

Tragic

Prosecution lawyer Robin Steer told the court the pallet truck Mr Da Costa had used had forks one metre long, but that the Euro pallet he was lifting was only 80cm deep so the forks "protruded out by 20cm and into the stack behind" adding that when he lifted it, they fell on him.

The lawyer said that normally, Euro pallets were made of different materials and were a different colour to the standard pallet but that tragically on this occasion, all the pallets concerned were blue so Mr Da Costa would not have known they were different depths.

Another factor which led to the accident was that the firm had taken a delivery of trays on pallets which were stacked on Euro pallets when they should have been on standard ones.

A manager had agreed to take the delivery on the understanding that the rest of the load would be on standard pallets but that information never reached Mr Da Costa.

Turning to his injuries, Mr Steer said Mr Da Costa was rushed to hospital and then transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was treated for bleeding on to the brain, as well as multiple fractures to his skull and facial bones.

The lawyer said there were no aggravating features in the case but that in mitigation, there had been an admission of guilt by Linden Foods and a "prompt response" to what had happened.

Improvements

Linden Foods Ltd, with an address at the Granville Industrial Estate, Granville Road in Dungannon, pleaded guilty to two counts of health and safety breaches in that they failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees and failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety to employees.

Defence lawyer Stuart Spence revealed that since the accident, Linden Foods Ltd had spent more than £70,000 on improving health and safety practices, employing a health and safety officer and upgrading the pallet stacking system so that they were not stacked on top of each other.

He told the court that the company had already admitted liability in civil proceedings, was still paying Mr Da Costa's wages to his wife and that his cousin, who also worked for the company, was allowed to leave work to help out when required.

Handing down the fines, Judge Lynch said there had been a "tragic catalogue of factors" which led to the accident but that he was satisfied the company took the health and safety of employees "very seriously".

In a statement, Linden Foods Ltd said: "The accident that injured our colleague has had devastating consequences for him and his family and was extremely distressing for all those who worked with him.

"The company deeply regrets what happened and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time."

Linden Foods Ltd employs 535 people and made a net profit of just over £500,000 in the last financial year.

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