They called him for help to remove the blockage — and heard his phone ringing from inside.
A father-of-one was crushed to death after climbing inside a recycling compactor that was accidentally switched on by a co-worker.
On Friday H&A Recycling admitted to the corporate manslaughter of 23-year-old Dale McClelland, who died while working at one of its UK plants in November of 2017.
Plymouth Crown Court heard that McClelland, who himself had never received proper training, was training another brand new employee, Kyle Harvey, on a rubbish compactor that was prone to jamming, Metro reported.
CCTV footage showed on the day of the accident, at 3:23 PM, McClelland was on an upper platform near the mouth of the industrial baler, while Harvey was on a platform below, and they appeared to be talking to each other.
The machine jammed, and McClelland could be seen removing the top to check inside, while Harvey was seen walking down steps toward a control panel, and touching it.
"To deal with the blockage, Mr McClelland stepped down into the baler," the judge, Mr Justice Garnham said. "Kyle Harvey touched the panel again and the baler operated. Mr McClelland was quickly dragged into it."
The baler again became jammed — this time with McClelland's body. His oblivious co-workers then tried to call his cellphone to ask his advice on how to remove the blockage, only realizing the grim truth when they heard his ringtone echoing from inside.
"The green baler then became jammed," the judge described. "Kyle Harvey and other employees tried to locate the deceased as they thought he would know what to do."
"One employee rang the deceased's phone and it could be heard ringing inside the baler. The alarm was raised and Mr McClelland was indeed found inside the baler."
Paramedics found McClelland with "catastrophic crushing injuries"; he was pronounced dead at the scene.
During sentencing, the judge said Harvey was not personally at fault, rather the company which employed health and safety practices "reminiscent of Victorian factories", but added: "That would be unfair on Victorian factory owners."
"This was just a part of the appalling culture at H&A – there was evidence of employees not wearing their PPE, play fighting amongst the rubbish at the site, being carried on the vehicles on the site."
He said employees were seen jumping down chutes, or hiding under trash on conveyor belts and jumping out to scare co-workers.
"It was eminently foreseeable that serious injury was inevitable," he said. "Never has the cliché 'an accident waiting to happen' been more appropriate."
"It was Kyle Harvey who restarted the green baler and unintentionally caused the accident. He should not have been operating the machinery at all," he added. "All this took place in an atmosphere of total disregard for safety. In my view, this sort of breach was commonplace in this organization. The difficulties with the baler were well known and employees were routinely put at risk unblocking it."
Because it admitted its guilt at the earliest opportunity, H&A Recycling was fined just £200,000 ($264,000) and ordered to pay costs of £45,691.60 ($60,200).
When he died, McClelland left behind a one-year-old daughter and a fiancee he was due to marry in 2019.