We find that today’s cost conscious business environment leads too many businesses to a short term focus when it comes to health & safety fixes.
Take the example on the HSE website this month where a man has lost part of 3 fingers in a machine and his company was fined £23,000. In this instance the HSE found that:
The man who had only been at the company for one month was loading and unloading doors with colleagues; work was on a recently-supplied door press and was working at the rear of the machine when he became trapped.
The press was guarded at the sides and had a two-hand control at the front, which meant the operator had to keep both hands on the control buttons whilst the press operated. There was no guarding at the rear of the machine press, just a trip wire at low level which protected the area beneath the platens. The flush engineered doors were loaded from the front of the press and unloaded at the rear.
Visibility around the back of the machine press for anybody operating it was restricted and the employees used a ‘thumbs up’ signal system when someone was working in this area to indicate when they were clear. One of the employees operated the press, not realising the man was behind it. His hand was between two of the heated platens and was trapped as the press closed.
He lost part of three fingers, required on-going hospital treatment and has not yet been able to return to work.
Their lackadaisical approach to installing a new machine and the absence of a suitable PUWER risk assessment is all too common. The wrong approach to introducing a new machine is “let’s get going and implement any improvements later”. In the preventable case highlighted by the HSE and in many other situations, the improvements come too late.
Why don’t more businesses take a pro-active approach to health and safety? Clearly there are many business pressures out there, but is the use of a ‘thumbs up’ signal system really a suitable control in a busy, noisy work environment? Clearly in this instance NO and the lack of a robust compliant control system has given the man a life changing injury and his company a large fine and much bad press.
So why don`t companies look more closely and ensure that the fixes applied are both robust and compliant? We believe that often it’s down to a lack of understanding of Risk; as too often we hear from management and workers, but it’s always been okay before! What they fail to realise is that when it goes wrong the costs far outweigh the initial investment of getting it right from the start.
What specialist knowledge could have helped the company fined by the HSE? This tragic case study was relating to work equipment. Knowledge of PUWER was required to ensure that any fixes are both cost effective and will provide long term protection. Remaining compliant with some Health & Safety regulations can be more easily achieved by consulting an expert. This is especially important for specific areas of Health and Safety such as COSHH and DSEAR.