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Cement firm handed £1m fine over factory fatality

The UK division of building products manufacturer Cemex has been convicted of safety failings after a worker was killed at its concrete block and paving factory in West Lothian.

Image credit: HSE

James Brownlie suffered fatal injuries on 13 May 2017 while carrying out maintenance and repair work on a dry sided conveyor at the site in West Calder, part of which ran under a machine known as a centering machine.

The machine – which has two arms on a mast which come down and centre the bricks, pushing them together under hydraulic pressure to make them ready for packaging and distribution – was not isolated at the time and part of the 64-year-old’s body interrupted the path of the light beam between the sensor’s emitter and reflector. This caused the machine’s lifting mast to activate and descend, striking him on the body and causing internal injuries.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Cemex UK Operations failed to ensure the centering machine was isolated prior to the maintenance and repair work being carried out on the conveyor.

Yesterday (9 October) at Livingston Sheriff Court, Cemex UK pleaded guilty to breaching s 2 (1) and s 33 (1) (a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £1m, reduced from £1.5m to reflect the early guilty pleas.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Kim Ross said: “This tragic incident led to the avoidable death of a man, which could have easily been prevented if had taken action to ensure the centering machine was isolated prior to the maintenance and repair work being carried out.

“If this had been in place before the incident, James Brownlie’s death could have been prevented."

Cemex UK, a Mexican owned corporation which operates in more than 50 countries and employs 43,000 people worldwide, has been prosecuted multiple times for health and safety breaches.

The company was fined £700,000 in January 2016 following the death of John Altoft, who fell seven metres from scaffolding at the firm’s site in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Just 12 months before, the cement firm was fined £60,000 after mechanical fitter Gary Ian Ward was killed while inspecting a stone crusher at its Northumberland quarry when the machine, which lacked a lock off facility, moved and suffocated him.

In 2013, Cemex was prosecuted after a worker broke both legs when he was struck by a falling 400 kilogramme metal track. It was fined £35,000 for that offence.

Two years previously, the concrete supplier was ordered to pay a £200,000 fine after a violent steam and dust explosion killed a worker at its factory in Warwickshire.

The force of the explosion at the firm’s Rugby cement works was so great that it blew 28-year-old Peter Reynolds out through the side of a building onto the road ten metres below.



Kellie is a freelance writer and former online editor of the Health and Safety at Work website.


  • This outcome reflects th

    Permalink Submitted by M.stephenson on 16 October 2019 - 07:54 am

    This outcome reflects the huge disparity between sentences given to companies who seriously & fatally injure people against others that in comparison are not life changing. So we are dealing with a company that has shown continual disregard for health and safety by injuring workers and previously receiving fines and they are handed a fine of £1,000,000 for killing somebody reduced from £1,500,000 this does sound considerable at first glance but when you consider KFC received a £950,000 for gravy burns it becomes very difficult to see how judges are applying the sentencing guidelines.

  • When are we going to rea

    Permalink Submitted by Paul Lessiter on 11 October 2019 - 03:50 pm

    When are we going to realise that just fining multinational companies who have been prosecuted multiple times for health and safety breaches is just is not working?
    Enough is enough, how many people have to die or be seriously injured before decisive action like Jailing CEOs' MDs' and Owners of these businesses?
    Massive companies with massive profits obviously don't get the message through fining then a pittance of their worth. What is one of the lost lives worth? what if it was your husband, wife, son daughter, how would you prevent repeat offending from these companies? It is about time the judicial system started to show some gumption and think about it from the victim's point of view; they might also want to consider future victims and how they (Judges) could be held to account for future deaths.
    Pretty sure if one of my loved ones was hurt after five repeat offences I'd be asking the judge of the last case why they allowed this organisation to continue trading and putting people at risk.
    Not that I'm on a rant, sometimes it seems that even the courts don't want to rock the boat too much; just in case the organisation stops trading and creates massive job losses. I know I'd rather be alive and looking for work than running the risk of being hurt (or worse) by an organisation who obviously don't value their workforce.
    Ok, so it was a bit of a rant, but hopefully, you see my point.
    Kind regards

  • I still don’t think they

    Permalink Submitted by on 25 October 2019 - 03:40 pm

    I still don’t think they will learn, 2 incidents in regards to isolation, why?


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