Why is it that so many businesses overlook what are such obvious failures to protect their employees, by failing to guard dangerous parts of machinery?
Another case has been brought by the HSE after an employee was dragged into an unguarded machine at a flooring manufacturer’s factory in Manchester. The business, Polyflor Ltd, was found guilty of machinery guarding safety failings.
During a four-day trial at Manchester Crown Court, the jury heard that the male worker was working on a nightshift when a conveyor belt became jammed. Maintenance workers were unable to repair the fault and guards from the machine were removed so that it could continue to operate. The injured worker was using a spanner to try to stop the belt rubbing, when he was pulled into the machine.
Unfortunately this type of incident happens far too frequently in our experience; only last week we visited a factory where a number of the machinery guarding had parts of the guards removed to allow operators to run the machinery more easily. In the Polyflor case the man had to be cut free and suffered a broken arm. He needed seven weeks off work to recover.
In court, Polyflor Ltd, of Radcliffe, was found guilty of a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 for failing to ensure routine maintenance work could be carried out safely on the machine. The company, which manufactures flooring for offices, sports centres and schools, was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £34,000 in prosecution costs.
The HSE inspector commented after the case that on this occasion the employee was lucky to escape with a broken arm. His injuries could have been much worse. The company should never have allowed workers to be put at risk by letting them carry out maintenance work to the machine while it was still operating.
We understand that the company has since installed a new safety system on the conveyor belt which makes it impossible for it to be run when the guards have been removed. It would be interesting to know how much this change cost the business; but we are sure it was far cheaper than the costs surrounding this accident. If you look at the fines and prosecution costs, then add in defence costs, lost production time, management costs and probably a civil claim then there is unlikely to be any change from £100k.
The HSE statistics show that around 10% of British workers are employed by the manufacturing industry, but the sector accounts for 25% of all workplace deaths (figures show 31 people were killed at work in 2011/12) and nearly 3,500 major injuries were reported.
Why wait to see if your business could fall into the situation of the HSE finding machinery guarding failures in your business? Take a proper look before something happens that you live to regret.