In December 2008, Matthew Lowe, then in his 20s, was a plate welder at the Compass Engineering factory in Barnsley, England. He lived a simple life with his girlfriend, Kim Swift, and their daughter, Evie.
One day at work, a high-powered conveyor system Lowe was working on grabbed his work overalls and pulled his body through a five-inch gap, equivalent to a compact disc.
Miraculously, Lowe lived to tell about it.
Lowe suffered numerous broken bones, including his back, hips, right arm, and ribs. The horrifying accident also ruptured his stomach and bowel.
Lowe said in March 2011: “The machine crushed my body, ripped my clothes to shreds, and spat me out. I was still alive but had no idea how.”
Doctors had told Swift to “expect the worst.”
Eighteen months after the horrific accident and a painful recovery, Lowe returned to work at the same company and retrained as a site supervisor.
In early June 2011, Lowe appeared in court over alleged health and safety breaches at Compass Engineering. Also present in court were the conveyor’s German installers, Kaltenbach.
Magistrates heard graphic details of Lowe’s injuries and how there was no guard on the steel processing machine.
According to BBC News, “A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed there was no guarding in place to protect the worker from dangerous moving parts on the computer-operated machine.”
“The machine could start, stop and restart without warning to the operator. As Matthew leaned through the hatch he was struck on the back of the shoulder and pulled through. Shoulder to feet he was pulled through the opening… the width of a CD case.”
Prosecutor Chris Chambers
Compass Engineering and Kaltenbach pleaded guilty to breaking safety work laws. Sheffield Crown Court fined the companies a total of £75,000 – £45,000 to Compass Engineering and £30,000 to Kaltenbach.
Judge Robert Moore said, “This was a very foreseeable accident, and it was only a matter of time before it, or something like it, occurred.”
Moore added that “some of the safety features on the £300,000 piece of machinery ‘could be regarded as the equivalent of a chocolate fireguard,’” BBC reported in late July 2011.
Officials from both companies were remorseful over the incident and spent £55,000 on safety features for the machine following Lowe’s accident.
Magistrates also ordered Compass Engineering to pay £24,000 and Kaltenbach £16,000 in costs.
Lowe endured several surgeries to repair his damaged body. He also ‘suffered a setback in my mental health that has come as a bit of a shock,” he said in 2011.
“I still have problems with my right arm and left hip, but that is not as bad as being told I might not make it. I still can’t believe I’m here. The thought of how close I came to death still haunts me.”
Today, Lowe continues working for Compass Engineering. He holds the Guinness World Record for “the smallest gap through which a human body has passed and emerged alive.”