A Romsey brick making firm has been prosecuted after one of its employees suffered crush injuries to his leg in a poorly-guarded machine. The worker was in hospital for three weeks with a multiple fracture of his right leg after the incident at Michelmersh Brick and Tile Company Ltd on 12 October last year. This incident occurred because safety controls were overridden and the business failed to fully assess the risks.
The HSE investigated the incident and found that flawed protective measures meant the worker was able to access dangerous parts of a brick making machine while it was still ‘live’. The court heard that the man had been trying to free a blockage caused when two trays dropped on a brick mould rather than one.
In an attempt to clear it, he followed work instructions and disabled pressure sensitive mats designed to prevent access to the machine (as he needed power running to free the trapped tray). Although the power was on, the machine was not in production mode but sensors were still active. He then climbed on the machine to reach the tray, as he had done on previous occasions to free blockages. As he leant over the turntable and pulled the tray, a sensor activated and the turntable rotated, crushing his leg and trapping him in the machine. Had a full PUWER assessment been completed then this approach should have been stopped and the works instruction changed.
After the incident, HSE served an Improvement Notice on Michelmersh Brick and Tile Co Ltd requiring further safeguarding of the machine. It complied by removing a switch that allowed the pressure mat to be overridden, meaning it is no longer possible for operators to access the machinery whilst there is power running to it.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined a total of £15,000 and ordered to pay £4,945 in costs.
The HSE commented that this case highlights the importance of ensuring proper guarding of dangerous machinery at all times. It is vital for employers to ensure that staff cannot get dangerously close to machinery that is either moving or is likely to move with people in the immediate area. Clearly, if the pressure mat been configured properly, it would have prevented the machine from operating with anyone near it.
Unfortunately, in our experience, a poor understanding of machinery risks can lead to workers being exposed to unnecessary risks and in this case the man has been left with very serious and life-changing injuries because of safety failures that could easily have been avoided.
We have been asked many times in the past if machinery risks can be assessed as part of a general workplace assessment and for non-complex work equipment that’s a valid approach. However for more complex work equipment then this prosecution should serve as a reminder to businesses of the need to carefully consider the risks of machinery and to ensure adequate controls are in place. We would suggest that this can only be achieved by undertaking a full PUWER risk assessment.