UK Sugar Manufacturer Paying $558,000 in Drowning Case

The 2004 death of Keith Webb, 53, during the unloading of a ship docked in the Thames River exposed Tate & Lyle PLC's failure to train employees to enter and exit ships' holds.

Another giant sugar manufacturer has been hit hard by a fine related to an occupational fatality. Not the U.S. company Imperial Sugar; this time, London-based Tate & Lyle PLC was fined 270,000 pounds (roughly $441,000 in U.S. dollars) on Oct. 9 for the March 2, 2004, drowning death of Keith Webb, 53, during the unloading of a ship carrying sugar at a dock on the Thames River. Webb, who worked for a subcontractor, was sitting in the cab of a "digger," a machine used to break up solidified sugar in ships’ holds so the sugar could be unloaded, as it was being lowered toward the ship when a connecting lug to the chains broke and the machine plunged into the river.

Tate & Lyle is a worldwide manufacturer of food ingredients, including sugars, and racked up approximately $5.8 billion in sales in the year ending March 31, 2009. The judge overseeing the case also assessed $147,000 in costs against the company.

Testimony in the case indicated the company did not train workers involved in unloading ships’ holds to safety enter or exit the holds, and no ladder was provided so Webb could climb down into the space. A lawyer defending the company said Tate & Lyle strives for zero incidents but accepted full responsibility for Webb’s death, according to newspaper accounts of the case.

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