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Co-op fined £65,000 after worker loses four fingers

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THE Co-op has been fined £65,000 for breaching health and safety standards after a butcher suffered ‘life-changing injuries’ when his hand got caught in a mincing machine.

Picture: ROB CURRIE (22798482)

Jose Escorcio, known to friends and family as Valdo, had been working behind the meat counter at the St Helier Grand Marché store when his hand got sucked into the machine because a safety guard was not in place. Mr Escorcio lost four fingers and a ‘significant part of his right hand’ and had to be flown to the UK for treatment.

Co-op chief executive Colin Macleod – who appeared before the Royal Court yesterday – said the ‘emotional pain’ of letting down one of the ‘Co-op family’ was far greater than the fine imposed down by the court.

Mr Escorcio has now returned to work at the Co-op and has been offered a role within the society’s health and safety team.

Speaking after the sentencing, Mr Macleod said: ‘First and foremost, we failed one of our Co-op family on this occasion. It was right that I stood up and took responsibility for that in court.

‘We are pleased the investigation and legal progress has come to an end and respect fully the judgment of the court.

‘I am proud of the way the society has responded to this. The fine isn’t as significant as the pain we feel for Valdo and our focus rightly has been on him and his family and on our efforts to ensure the risks of something like this happening again are as close to zero as we can get them.

‘I was pleased that the court recognised the fact that we are not an unsafe organisation. That doesn’t change the fact that this happened and it shouldn’t have happened.’

He added that having Mr Escorcio join the health and safety team within the Co-op would send a ‘powerful message’ to staff about the need to take safety practices seriously.

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And since the incident, the Co-op has commissioned a review of all health and safety measures across the company and is ‘making improvements wherever we can’.

Mr Macleod added: ‘The whole thing has been quite humbling in many ways – seeing Valdo’s positivity and determination to get back.

‘I have met and spoken with him dozens of times since the incident and it has been a privilege to get to know him, albeit in circumstances neither of us would have wanted.

‘We can’t change the fact that Valdo has been seriously and permanently injured on my watch. But we can do everything possible to ensure his recovery is supported and his career with us continues to flourish.’

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In an email sent to staff, Mr Escorcio, who has worked for the organisation since 2014, said he was ‘thrilled’ to be back at work and thanked the Co-op for the support he received following the incident.

The Royal Court heard that Mr Escorcio had been working as a butcher for only a couple of months before the accident and had not received formal training for the use of the mincer, having only been shown how to operate it by his manager.

Crown Advocate Conrad Yates, seeking a £100,000 fine, said the manager had ‘effectively passed on bad practice, having received no training himself’ and ‘safety standards appear to have been ignored’ as a result of the guard being removed and not replaced.

Advocate David Benest, defending, said the society had ‘sought to understand what went wrong, why and to put it right’ and had offered ‘exemplary’ support to Mr Escorcio and his family. He added that the organisation had done everything it could in the wake of the incident to improve training and safety standards.

Delivering the court’s sentence, the Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, presiding, said: ‘This decision takes into account that the court accepts entirely that the society has taken the incident seriously and there is genuine contrition.’

The Co-op was also ordered to pay £5,000 in legal costs and was given two weeks to pay the fine. Jurats Rozanne Thomas and Pamela Pitman were sitting.

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