Two companies have been fined following the deaths of two workers at a woodchip factory on Merseyside in December 2010.

James Bibby, 25, and Thomas Elmer, 27, were killed when they went to Sonae Industria (UK) Limited's factory in Kirkby to carry out maintenance work on a conveyor belt.

Mr Elmer, who was employed by Metso Paper Limited, and Mr Bibby, a self-employed contractor for the same company, were replacing part of the belt when the machine started up unexpectedly, dragging them into a huge silo causing fatal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found multiple failings by both companies. Sonae Industria (UK) Limited had not properly assessed the risks associated with the work on the conveyor belt or shared this information with contractors. It had failed to put in place a proper procedure for managing contractors or for isolating dangerous machinery, and had failed to train or check the competence of workers.

Valmet Limited, which took over Metso Paper Limited in 2013, was prosecuted for failing to ensure the site its workers were visiting had sufficient risk assessments and procedures in place. It also failed to ensure that its workers and contractors had adequate training for the tasks to be carried out or were provided with the necessary information on the work they were being asked to perform.

Sonae Industria (UK) Limited was fined £220,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Valmet Limited was fined £190,000, with costs of £107,000, after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2 and 3 of the Act.

Following the case, HSE's Principal Inspector Mike Sebastian said, "James Bibby and Thomas Elmer should not have died. This is perhaps the most horrific case I have ever had to deal with and has had a devastating effect on both families.

"Carrying out straightforward risk assessments is about protecting workers from serious harm, suffering life-changing injuries or, in this tragic case, death.

"If both companies had put in place the simple steps to protect their workers' safety these two young men would still be with us today."

In September 2012, Sonae Industria (UK) Limited announced the immediate closure of the factory with the loss of 220 jobs. This followed a fire which caused extensive damage to the plant in June 2011.

For advice on any health and safety law matter contact Dean Parnell on 0121 698 2200, email d.parnell@sydneymitchell.co.uk or fill in our online enquiry form.

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