Last week we visited a potential client to look at what controls they had on their work equipment and to identify if they comply with the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). The first machine we looked at was a large guillotine used to cut card on; this machine had a light guard at the front and a two button control system (both buttons have to be pressed at the same time in order to operate). So far so good; however there was no protection around the rest of the machine and access to moving parts and the back of the blade could easily be achieved.
Some might ask is this necessary as people would have to be stupid to access the machine from the back? Unfortunately our experience is you have to protect people from doing things you might not expect them too.
Many years ago we became aware of a case where persons using such a guillotine lost both hands. It appears they were holding the work in place whilst a colleague pressed the buttons to initiate the cut (to do so they had to avoid the light beam guards); they were supposed to remove their hands on instruction from the other person but failed to hear. The result was a loss of both hands.
Looking at the HSE website we have seen that a Lancaster timber firm has been fined for serious safety breaches after a guillotine severed the hand of one of its employees. It just goes to show that lessons have not been learnt and that businesses fail to recognise potential risks.
The court heard that a 72-year-old man had been feeding pieces of wood into a diesel-powered guillotine, known as a logger, using his right hand to push wood under the blade and his left hand to operate the lever. As he was doing this, he accidentally pulled down the lever before he had removed his right hand from under the blade. It passed through the top of his hand, just below his knuckles, breaking all the bones in its path and severing all the tendons. The skin on his palm was the only thing left keeping the two parts of his hand together. Surgeons managed to sew his hand back together during a six-hour operation but he had to have part of his little finger amputated and now has very limited movement in his hand.
The HSE investigation found the level of guarding on the guillotine fell well below the minimum legal standards, and it should not have been possible to reach under the blade while operating the guillotine.
Charlesworth Tree Care and Fencing Ltd were prosecuted by the HSE and the company pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The company was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 towards the cost of the prosecution.
The HSE commented that a long-serving employee at the firm suffered life-changing injuries because the company’s safety precautions on this machine weren’t anywhere near good enough. Although the machine had been at the yard for over a decade and wasn’t in daily use; this does not mean the standards of safety should not be maintained.
The HSE made the point that this case should act as a warning to firms to make sure all their equipment meets minimum safety requirements, no matter how frequently or infrequently it is used.