Chocolate firm fined after thumb sliced

A chocolate factory where a worker had the top of his thumb sliced off while trying to unblock a pipe was yesterday ordered to pay more than £12,000. Richard O'Donnell was using an "unofficial" method to get rid of solidified chocolate at Kinnerton's Fakenham factory last summer when a valve cut off part of his thumb.

A chocolate factory where a worker had the top of his thumb sliced off while trying to unblock a pipe was yesterday ordered to pay more than £12,000.

Richard O'Donnell was using an "unofficial" method to get rid of solidified chocolate at Kinnerton's Fakenham factory last summer when a valve cut off part of his thumb.

King's Lynn magistrates court heard the company failed to give instructions on how to clear the pipes so staff had devised their own system that involved sticking their fingers in the machine.

Geoffrey Knipe, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said Mr O'Donnell tried to warm the pipes with a heat gun and asked colleague Robert Barlow to switch a valve on and off to test if there was enough pressure to clear the blockage.

"He then put his right index finger in the pipe to feel if the chocolate plug was near enough to pull out," he said.

"He ran his forefinger round the outside of the pipe and then put his left hand out to grab the plug and pull it through with his thumb inserted in to the pipe.

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"It seems that at that point Mr Barlow operated the valve again and the valve amputated the top half of the first joint of his thumb."

Mr O'Donnell was taken to a local surgery and then the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and needed three operations to reduce the bone and fight an infection.

Mr Knipe added: "The system used to free the blockage was one which had been developed by employees over a period of years in the absence of any instructions from Kinnerton."

Kinnerton admitted failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees and in particular Mr O'Donnell on August 6 last year.

Sean Elson, defending the company, expressed regret that a valued member of staff was injured.

"The failure of the company is that it had a process that was not properly documented," he said.

"The company accepted that in relation to this matter it had simply been missed."

He added that Kinnerton had an excellent safety record and quickly launched its own inquiry and instructed staff the same day.

The machine had been altered so staff could no longer insert their digits and Mr O'Donnell had returned to work November but was currently having a further operation on his thumb.

Magistrates fined Kinnerton £8000 and ordered it to pay the full costs of £4144.