AN engineering company, considered a paragon of health and safety good practice, was yesterday fined £100,000 over the death of a worker crushed while trying to clear a jammed press.

Lead maintenance engineer Paul Clark was crushed while trying to clear a jam on a production line at Thyssenkrup Tallent, at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, on July 8, 2009.

The 52-year-old father-of-two, from Newton Aycliffe, a multi-skilled fitter at the company’s Aycliffe Business Park plant, was found by colleagues trapped between a moving carriage and its tracks.

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He had been trying to repair a jammed de-stacker carriage in the press shop, which makes components for the motor industry – at that time torsion beams for Honda Civic cars. Durham Crown Court was told a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that a pneumatically-powered carriage had jammed. The carriage removed empty magazines from the press.

Stephen Uttley, prosecuting, said although no one saw the incident, it appeared Mr Clark was trying to clear the jam after the carriage stopped half-way along its tracks.

On opening interlocking safety gates to gain access to the enclosed machine, it isolated the equipment from the electricity supply. But it did not make the pneumatic power element of the machine safe.

Mr Uttley said it appeared the carriage moved suddenly and trapped Mr Clark, who died from traumatic asphyxia due to crush injuries. The inquiry found that there was no safe system for carrying out work within the destacker area. Although the electrical hazards were recognised by the company, the risks from the pneumatically-operated equipment were not.

There was also insufficient information available to Mr Clark to show how the pneumatic supply worked and how he could safely make the necessary adjustments.

Mr Uttley said the supplier of that piece of equipment had gone into liquidation and insufficient documentation was passed on.

The company, now known as Tallent Automotive Ltd- Gestamp Automocion, admitted failing to ensure Mr Clark’s safety.

Dominic Kay, for Tallent, said Mr Clark was an experienced, valued and well-liked worker who had been with the company for 17 years.

He said the company took safety responsibilities seriously and had a good previous record, even allowing Health and Safety Executive inspectors to train at the plant.

He said the company had adapted equipment to prevent a repeat of the accident.

Recorder Jamie Hill said Tallent used the press “in the mistaken belief it could be used safely”, despite having no proper instructions or documentation.

Recorder Hill said: “It was not a deliberate flouting of health and safety regulations, or a cutting of corners to maximise profit.

“Tallent has a well-developed health and safety department but, unfortunately, in this incident there was an oversight dating back all the way to the installation of that machinery.”

He ordered Tallent to pay £44,000 in costs.

Mr Clark’s widow, Carole, said: “What happened that fateful day has not only devastated the lives of those nearest to Paul, but affected the lives of many others.

“We as a family remain of the view that Paul’s death was completely avoidable.

“Paul was working in an isolated, hazardous area alone. When the accident happened, his vital organs were not damaged. In fact, he had only broken a few ribs and the coroner at his inquest felt his death could possibly have been avoided had he been extricated earlier.

“What he must have gone through in those minutes does not bear thinking about.

“We would hope that since this accident, Tallent Automotive and other companies nationwide will introduce measures to have another worker close by to raise the alarm immediately when workers are in hazardous conditions.”

Mrs Clark thanked the HSE for its thorough and compassionate handling of the investigation.