Mushroom factory near Stanton fined over health and safety failures

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A factory which is already having to lay off staff has been hit by fines and legal costs of nearly £20,0000 after breaching health and safety laws.

Magistrates heard that Eastern European workers at Suffolk Mushrooms Ltd at Shepherd’s Grove could have been killed or seriously injured as a result of several of the failings.

Among them was the use of raised platforms used by workers picking mushrooms. Safety gates on these platforms were propped open by mushroom collection containers, exposing workers to the risk of a 2.5m fall, enough to kill or seriously injure, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector John Claxton told the court.

Mr Claxton said other failings included the lack of safety measures including high visibility clothing and a designated walk way where a HGV reversed daily 100m into an area were workers could be walking.

The company, near Stanton, also provided accommodation to 37 workers but a boiler in a converted block did not have an up to date gas safety certificate magistrates were told.

Representatives of Suffolk Mushrooms pleaded guilty to the two breaches – one as employer nand one as landlord – when they appeared before Bury St Edmunds magistrates on Thursday.

Mark Watson in mitigation said previous site manager John Clay, who is no longer with the firm, had had an engineer service the boiler but when managing director Alan Walsh stepped in to resolve the various HSE issues, no certificate could be found. A subsequent service found the boiler was safe.

Mr Watson said the company took swift action after the HSE visit to resolve all of the issues.

The court heard that the company set up less than three years ago, has been running at a loss, employs 90 people and had made eight people redundant last week while another nine are on notice.

The firm was fined £10,750 for the health and safety breaches and must pay £8,446.05 in prosecution costs.

After the hearing, Mr Claxton said: “What we discovered at this farm was very disturbing. It is difficult to believe that workers can be exposed to such unnecessary risks.

“The workers were from Eastern Europe and most were unable to speak good English, and so were vulnerable to this type of exploitation.

“There is absolutely no excuse to treat employees like this.”

Mr Walsh in a statement to the Bury Free Press said: “Whilst we are grateful to the HSE for highlighting the risks, we stress that at no time was there any injury or accident to any person on site as a result of these breaches.

“We continue to invest in the health and safety and training of our 90 employees who have shown tremendous commitment and loyalty to the business and for which we are grateful.”