A WASTE management and recycling company has been hit with a near £250,000 court bill, in fines and costs, following the death of an employee in a work-place tragedy.

Simon Hogg, 47, from Hurworth, Darlington, and a 46-year-old colleague were clearing one of a growing number of blockages inside a trommel, a large cyclindrical drum, at the Stonegrave Aggregates’ site, at Aycliffe Quarry, Newton Aycliffe, on December 12, 2015.

Durham Crown Court heard that the 6 x 2m drum, which separates waste, was inadvertently switched on by a colleague in a separate cabin and the pair were violently thrown around, unable to get out or stop the machine.

Robert Stevenson, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said in a subsequent statement given by Mr Hogg’s colleague, who he said has since died, he recalled it becoming darker as waste paper was blown around and he heard someone screaming, but after that it went quiet and the next thing he could recall was waking later in hospital.

Mr Stevenson said the machine was running for four minutes before being switched off and it was only other members of staff tried to clear further blockages that the men were found.

Despite efforts to revive him, it was, “apparent Simon Hogg was already dead.”

The other casualty was taken to hospital suffering serious multiple “life-changing” injuries, including a broken leg, several other fractures and a punctured lung.

Mr Stevenson said HSE inspectors’ inquiries confirmed “numerous failings” with machinery and work practices, putting employees at risk.

Improvements were made and most failings were rectified by May 2016, while two further recommendations were subsequently complied with by the company.

Mr Stevenson said: “There was a failure to put in place measures, and recognised standards, allowing breaches to subsist.”

Stonegrave Aggregates admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of employees while at work and failing to comply with regulations covering the provision and use of work equipment.

Director and operations manager Bruce David Whitley, 61, of Oakwood Drive, and 60-year-old site manager David Basham, of Devonport Row, Middleton One Row, both Darlington, each admitted failing to manage risk under health and safety at work regulations.

Mr Stevenson said Whitley should have been “more proactive” observing procedures on site, describing it as, “an offence of omission rather than inaction.”

But he said his culpability was lower than that of Basham, who was aware of, “short cuts”, taken regularly in work practices.

Both were said to be of previous good character.

Harry Vann, for Whitley, told the court: “These matters have hung over this gentleman for five years or more. The remorse felt by him and the company is real.”

Mr Vann said it was not a case where systems were “absent” but they were not always used and followed, and improvements were made, “at significant expense, thereafter.”

Thomas Day, for Basham, provided several references on behalf of his client, offered “sincere apologies” to the families of both victims.

Recorder Jamie Hill QC said the penalties in the case were not designed to put a value on someone’s life but are designed to aim at the degree those involved fell short in managing health and safety risks and assessments of the potential harm present.

Recorder Hill said: “Although there was not deliberate cost cutting, the fact you took those short cuts was to avoid the whole process grinding to a halt, and there were multiple breaches.”

He fined the company £200,000, with £48,952 costs, giving six months to pay.

Recorder Hill said Basham, “sometimes showed a wilful blindness to risk”, possibly, “lulled into a false sense of security as there had been no previous accidents, or even near misses.”

He imposed a six-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, while Whitley was given a 12-month community order, to include attending 13 probation-run rehabilitation activity days.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Michael Kingston said: “These tragic consequences could have been avoided.

"This case highlights the importance of implementing effective power isolation procedures when interacting with machinery and the need to monitor compliance to make sure these procedures are followed."

Mr Kingston added: “HSE will not hesitate to prosecute companies or individuals who fail to implement and monitor safe systems of work.”