Health and Safety Executive slammed after death of Barnsley meat factory worker from Covid-19

MPs have criticised a 'toothless' regulatory body after the deaths from Covid-19 of three workers at the same Barnsley factory.
Dave Baxter, 55, died from Covid-19 and worked at a meat factory in BarnsleyDave Baxter, 55, died from Covid-19 and worked at a meat factory in Barnsley
Dave Baxter, 55, died from Covid-19 and worked at a meat factory in Barnsley

One of the three victims has now been identified as Dave Baxter, 55. He and two unnamed colleagues at Cranswick Convenience Foods in Wombwell, near Barnsley, died in the spring after a Covid-19 outbreak at the site. Eleven workers were diagnosed with the virus and seven were hospitalised.

The factory processes bacon products and the cluster has raised further questions after an outbreak at another meat factory, Asda-owned Kober Ltd in Cleckheaton, was confirmed last week, although no fatalities have been linked to it.

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Mr Baxter's MP John Healey, who represents Wentworth and Dearne, and Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock have both now raised concerns over how the Cranswick outbreak was handled after being contacted by workers and their families.

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Mr Healey has been in touch with Dave Baxter's partner Leander Lupton following his death on April 19. The couple are from Wath-upon-Dearne and have a son.

He said: “The email from Leander was one of the most distressing I have received in more than 20 years as an MP. Speaking to her, she is clearly heartbroken yet determined to seek answers for herself, Dave and their son."

Ms Lupton described how dedicated employee Dave was so worried about missing shifts that he even spoke about it as he was being taken to hospital in an ambulance. He last worked on April 1 and was admitted to hospital five days later.

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“When he was in the back of the ambulance, he asked me to let them know he wouldn’t be going in - he didn’t want to let them down. If they’d shown the same concern, they might still have a loyal, hard-working employee, my son would still have a dad and the world would still have a kind, gentle and giving man," she said.

In a letter to John Healey, the Health and Safety Executive say they have received four reports about the Wombwell site as well as concerns about another Cranswick site in Hull - yet the MPs claim that the HSE did not carry out site visits.

Stephanie Peacock said: “It is deeply concerning that the HSE failed to visit Cranswick Foods even though three employees sadly lost their lives and others were seriously ill in hospital after contracting Covid-19

“I requested a referral to HSE on April 30 as employees working in the factory needed reassurance. The HSE failed to provide this despite the seriousness of the situation.

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“As more workplaces begin to open, questions need to be asked as to why this happened and whether the HSE has adequate funding to respond to the current crisis.”

A HSE spokesperson said:- “Our thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the workers at this site who have sadly lost loved ones after testing positive for Covid-19. We have been in contact with some family members and are willing to speak to relatives further.

“Our regulatory statement has been updated to make it clear how we are operating amid this pandemic and we continue to review this. While this is a challenging period, Great Britain has among the lowest rates of fatal disease from workplace activity in the world.

“Employers must continue to follow the latest government guidance on controlling coronavirus risk.

“HSE’s enquiries into Cranswick Food are ongoing, and we continue our ongoing dialogue with the Members of Parliament who have contacted us on this matter.”

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