Oldbury recycling firm facing substantial fine after worker's 'wholly avoidable' death

Workers regularly risked their lives jumping in and out of a machine that killed a man at a recycling plant, a court heard.

Stuart Towns was killed in 2017
Stuart Towns was killed in 2017

Stuart Towns, 34, died after being struck from above while working at the Alutrade Ltd site in Tat Bank Lane, Oldbury, in July 2017.

He was killed after going under a machine while it was in operation despite the company having been warned two years earlier about the dangers of the machine, Wolverhampton Crown Court was told.

Ms Christine Agnew QC, prosecuting, said he suffered a fatal head injury and that his death was "deeply unpleasant and wholly avoidable".

The company is due to be sentenced next week after admitting corporate manslaughter.

Meanwhile, company directors Malcolm George and Kevin Pugh and health and safety manager Mark Redfern have admitted health and safety failures on the basis of neglect.

Ms Agnew QC told the court that the material being recycled was first placed into a hopper but there were often blockages which employees would attempt to resolve themselves using shovels or by climbing into the hopper itself.

She said when the machinery was first installed the area was closed off.

The court heard that gates were installed in 2015 but later fell into disrepair and became incapable of safeguarding workers from the machinery.

Ms Agnew QC said: "It should have been obvious that the gates that were once in place were no longer there, not in a state to be used; one of them in fact seems to have broken off completely."

The court heard the company had a health and safety manager in place but "little health and safety management was going on at all".

CCTV footage, which overlooked the yard where the machinery was kept, was also shown to the court and had recorded the actions of employees in the month leading up to Mr Towns' death.

Alutrade

Ms Agnew QC said: "It's clear from the CCTV that employees frequently went underneath, alongside or climbed into the hopper and could be seen trying to clear blockages."

During the sentencing hearing, she also read out a victim personal statement from Mr Towns' brother, Ian Towns.

He said he had many questions that had been unanswered for years and his brother's sudden death had a profound effect on his family and friends.

The statement by Mr Towns said: "I'm angry and annoyed this court process has been drawn out unnecessarily and only at the eleventh hour the individuals and company have changed their pleas."

He described his brother as "kind-hearted, caring and generous", adding: "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of him.

"It is very painful and breaks my heart that Stuart is no longer with us.

"He will never be replaced and he was one of a kind."

Representing George, Dominic Kay QC, said from 2010 to the end of 2015 he had been running a different company from a separate site and had played little part in running the recycling firm during that time.

He said from 2016 his role was in the commercial side of the business and five weeks before Mr Towns' death was the first time he had moved into the role of managing director.

Malcolm Galloway, representing Redfern, said health and safety was one of many roles he had been given in the organisation and he was "hardworking".

He also said Redfern suffered from long-standing medical issues.

Mark Balysz, representing the firm, told the court: "By the plea of guilty by the company to corporate manslaughter, the company accepts that the way in which its activities were managed or organised by its senior management caused the death of Stuart Towns and that this failure amounted to a gross breach by the company of its duty of care to Mr Towns."

George, 55, the managing director, of Earls Common Road, Worcestershire; Pugh, 46, the production director of Dunchurch Crescent, Sutton Coldfield, and Redfern, 61, of Alwin Road, Rowley Regis, all admitted health and safety failures.

They, along with the firm, are due to be sentenced next Friday.

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