A national fruit and vegetable wholesaler has been sentenced for safety failings after a worker lost the tip of her finger at a processing plant in Hayes. TCK Fresh Produce Ltd, of Amersham, Buckinghamshire, was prosecuted by the HSE as a result of the incident at its premises on Printing House Lane.
Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that a 46 year-old worker was using a vegetable slicing machine when it became blocked. She pressed a stop button and opened a side panel to gain access to a conveyor that took vegetables to the cutting head. As she reached in to clear the blockage, the still-rotating cutting blade caught her right index finger and sliced off the tip to the base of her nail. The worker’s finger is permanently disfigured, although she has since returned to work.
If the company had assessed the risks of accessing the rotating blade they would have known to ensure a suitable interlock system was in place. This fairly inexpensive control would have helped TCK Fresh Produce Ltd to avoid the fine of £6,000 and costs of £7,500 after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).
The court was told HSE served an immediate prohibition notice on the firm preventing use of the slicer until effective guarding was installed. Magistrates heard that HSE had served numerous notices on TCK Fresh Produce along with several written advice letters and verbal guidance. Five prohibition notices for poor machine guarding were served in 2003, 2006 and 2007. The notice served after the 2010 incident was the sixth.
So it’s clear the company had had enough warnings of what might happen and would have been sufficiently aware of the need to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery but appears to have disregarded previous advice and enforcement notices from HSE.
As the HSE commented this failure to put an effective system in place to ensure machines had suitable protection devices and to give the workforce sufficient training put their workers at unnecessary risk. It was almost inevitable that injury would result.
We would urge businesses to look again at the level of guarding and controls they have on machinery as these risks are generally not well recognised as part of general workplace risk assessments. As blogged about in the past the number of prosecutions for PUWER failures has risen significantly in recent times; don`t let your business get caught out.