We have blogged before on the failures of companies to prevent access to dangerous moving parts of machinery and how the HSE are keen to prosecute. We know from the HSE that their primary focus (when taking a case against a business) is to secure a successful prosecution and clearly, the PUWER regulations are providing easy wins for the HSE.
In our meetings with the HSE they have made it clear that it is far easier to bring a case for failures to meet the absolute requirements of regulations such as PUWER (e.g. to guard dangerous moving parts, to undertake suitable risk assessments etc.); than it is to bring a case under the HSWA.
This is very clearly seen by the sheer numbers of prosecutions for PUWER failures on the HSE website news pages; on average there are now one in every three that are posted. Only in the past two weeks the following cases can be seen:
- Johnson Mathey – the multinational precious metals and chemical company appeared in court after an employee sustained a serious hand injury where two fingers were caught whilst operating a 10-tonne power hammer. The HSE found the hammer was unguarded and wasn’t being used in the correct manner. They also established that the machine was regularly used in this way – a dangerous practice that should have been stopped. The business was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £2,194 in costs after pleading guilty to two charges under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
- CCL Label Ltd – the West Yorkshire firm has been fined after an employee had a thumb and finger shattered when his hand was drawn into dangerous moving parts of a printing press. A worker needed a skin graft and had to have his left thumb and index finger pinned after his left hand was drawn into a half-inch nip point between a large impression drum and a roller. The HSE found that a guard covering the nip point had been removed two years earlier and no checks were made to ensure guards were in place before the machine was used. The company had identified that the machine could be operated without guards in place, but failed to take action to address the hazard. The business pleaded guilty to breaching PUWER and was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,141 in costs.
- An Essex packaging company has been fined after one of its employees sustained a serious hand injury on an unguarded laminating machine. The worker had the skin on the palm of his left hand torn away in the incident at Frith’s Flexible Packaging. The man had put his left hand into the machine via an unguarded portal to scrape away dried glue residue from a roller that had caused the blemish, but his whole hand was drawn into the roller and the palm of his left hand was de-gloved. The HSE found that the man had removed an interlocked guard on the laminating machine some six years earlier to allow him to set the machine up more easily. He and other employees, including his supervisor, had used the machine without the guard ever since. The business was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £2,046 in costs.
- A Suffolk plastics company has been prosecuted for safety breaches after a worker crushed a finger on a poorly guarded printing machine. The worker caught his left hand between two rollers as he was cleaning the machine at Tenza Technologies Limited ; his ring finger was badly injured and he was unable to work for twelve weeks. The court heard that the HSE found the standard of guarding on the printing machine was poor and wasn’t fit for purpose. The company was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £3,613 in costs
These are just a few of the recent cases posted and show that guarding failures are an issue for both large and smaller companies alike; yet they can often be easily solved. All it takes to keep your workforce safe and your business protected is to ensure you undertake a proper PUWER risk assessment and then take action on the findings identified. If the businesses above had done this they could have avoided the pain and suffering of their workers and could have avoided a stain on their reputations.
We would urge you to look closely at your work equipment and ensure that you identify the risks before having to face the HSE in court; there will only be one winner.