A SAWMILL worker was dragged into a machine up to his elbow as he attempted to clear a conveyor belt, a court heard.

Darren Aitken was working in a cross-cut shed at Windymains Timber Ltd when he tried to pull a piece of wood from the conveyor belt carrying wood debris.

But instead of turning the machine off and clearing the wood, Mr Aitken flicked the wood away while wearing heavy gloves.

The 21-year-old was caught in the mechanism and was pulled into the unguarded machine.

He suffered serious injuries – including a broken right arm –and has had metal screws and plates inserted into his arm.

Co-workers heard the man’s frantic screams for help during the incident at the sawmill at Humbie and he was rushed to hospital for treatment.

Employers Windymains Timber Ltd has been fined a total of £13,334 after it admitted failing to take adequate safety measures at the site when the case against them called at Edinburgh Sheriff Court this week.

The court was told that no safety guards were in place on the machinery within the cross-cut shed where Mr Aitken, from Haddington, and two colleagues were processing timber in September last year.

Three wood-cutting machines were within the shed and a conveyor belt ran underneath all three machines collecting wood debris which would then be taken away and chipped.

Fiscal depute Louise Beattie said: “Mr Aitken was working within the cross-cut saw shed and was tidying near to the multi-head cross-cutting machine, picking up pieces of wood and putting them into large bins.

“As he lifted a bin to tip it onto the conveyor, his hand slipped and a piece fell onto the underside of the conveyor.

“He went around to the side of the machine and saw the wood travelling towards the rollers.

“He knew the wood would stretch the roller belt and he thought he could prevent this if he removed the wood.

“Mr Aitken swept the wood away with his glove; however, his fingers became caught in the roller and his hand and forearm were pulled into the roller up to his elbow.”

His two co-workers switched the machine off and helped free the injured man before he was taken to Borders General Hospital.

Since the incident, the sawmill company, which was taken over by the Glennan Brothers in 2005, has made significant improvements to its safety procedures, including fitting metal plates and guards around the machinery and installing trip wires.

Solicitor Ann Bonomy, defending, said the firm had also revamped its health and safety structure, brought in a new health and safety manager, and expressed its “sincere apologies” for the incident.

The court also heard that Windymains Timber Ltd, which employs 76 staff on its 22-acre site, was fined £20,000 in 2010 following an incident where a 21-year-old employee “sustained severe injuries to his leg” two years previously.

In his judgement, Sheriff Alistair Noble said: “It is accepted Windymains Timber has pled guilty to a serious matter.

“It involved a moving conveyor and the injury sustained was sustained by a conscientious employee.

“Plainly they are a profitable company and there is no suggestion here the company for financial gain were taking shortcuts.

“There have been substantial steps taken to look at the whole of their operation with a view to imprint safety.”

Sheriff Noble was also told Mr Aitken and the company had settled a civil claim into the incident earlier this year.

Windymains Timber Ltd pleaded guilty to the offence, which came under Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.