'Negligence' led to decapitation

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The washing powder company Proctor & Gamble was yesterday fined pounds 18,000, with pounds 7,000 costs, for "serious negligence" following an incident in which an employee operating machinery was decapitated after he climbed on top of a moving trolley.

Kevin Dean, 36, was using machinery to fill three-ton trolleys with washing powder, when the top of his head was cut off by a piece of steelwork designed to cut down dust in the factory, which the company thought contained dangerous enzymes.

Grays Magistrates Court, Essex, heard that Mr Dean, of Southend-on-Sea, climbed on to one of the trolleys as it was being filled - allegedly a "common practice".

Mr Ian James, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, told the court: "There is no excuse for such poor standards in a company where the annual profit is pounds 140m."

He said the trolley station, at the company's West Thurrock plant, did not comply with Proctor & Gamble's own safety standards, as the bar that caused the fatal injury was nine and a half inches lower than their regulations required.

The HSE said access to the top of the trolleys should have been physically prevented and warning notices displayed. The plant manager, Dexter Mueller, told the court: "It was an error on our part."

Proctor & Gamble pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, but stressed that the company had one of the best health and safety records in the world. Mr Dean's widow, Gail, intends to take civil action against the company, said her solicitor.