It has come to our attention that further needless injuries are caused by a lack of risk appreciation from businesses across the UK in relation to machinery safety risks. This comes from both direct observations of the workplaces we visit and the continued number of prosecutions brought by the HSE on a monthly basis.
This month on the HSE website we have picked out two cases where workers have either lost or badly injured a number of fingers during their working activities …
The first involved a Burnley bakery after an employee had the tips of two fingers chopped off by a pasty-making machine.
Tayyabah Bakery Ltd was prosecuted by the HSE after an investigation found part of a metal guard had been deliberately removed, allowing employees to add fillings to the machine while it was still operating. We find this is a common theme, where someone feels the guard is restricting the tasks and management either condone or overlook the action of removing a guard.
The court was told that the man had been feeding a cheese and onion mixture into the top of the machine on 7 September 2012 when his right hand was struck by the pistons.
He was off work for almost a year as the pain in his fingers meant he was unable to return to manual work in the Gannow Lane bakery.
The HSE investigation found that the machine had been fitted with a guard when it was bought by the company around five years before the incident. However, part of the guard had been cut away, creating a 12cm by 30cm gap, which meant fillings could be added without the lid of the machine being lifted and the power being cut.
Tayyabah Bakery Ltd, of Blackburn, was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £5,002 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to prevent access to dangerous machine parts.
The HSE commented after the case that the injuries suffered by the employee have had a significant impact on his life but his injuries could have been even worse. If the machine had been set up with larger pistons, as it was on some days, he could easily have lost all of his fingers.
The HSE concluded that the machine was entirely safe to use when it was installed but, by overriding an essential safety feature to speed up production, the company exposed employees to an unacceptable and entirely avoidable level of risk.
This case clearly demonstrates a business not putting the health and safety of their staff before profits.
In the second case another food company, based in Park Royal, was prosecuted for safety breaches after an employee lost the ends of two fingers in a poorly-guarded machine.
The 45-year-old worker suffered partial amputation of the ring finger and serious injury to the little finger of his right hand after it was caught in a rotating drum that he was trying to clean at Dina Foods Ltd premises in Gorst Road.
The incident on 4 May 2013, was investigated by the HSE which prosecuted the firm for safety failings at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
HSE found Dina Foods Ltd, a family firm employing some 150 staff in three factories in North West London, did not make sure the machine’s guarding prevented workers from getting too close to dangerous moving parts.
The court was told that the worker was cleaning the machine and was trying to detach a drum when his foot pressed an operating pedal. The machine started running and his right hand was caught in the rotating mechanism, badly injuring the two fingers. He spent four days in hospital and has been unable to return to work since.
HSE served an enforcement notice on Dina Foods Ltd prohibiting use of the machine until it was sufficiently guarded and advised the firm of the need for regular checks on machine safety in food factories.
Dina Foods Ltd of Park Royal, London, was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £1,477 in costs after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
In this case the HSE commented that this worker has been severely affected by the injury and now has a long-term impairment. It may have serious consequences on his future work prospects, especially where dexterity is a requirement.
Clearly, if the business had ensured the machinery was suitably guarded, the incident would not have happened. Unfortunately, we see this in too many businesses and in our opinion it’s because of a failure to understand the risks posed by machinery. The fact is it’s often easier to run machinery without guards and to kid yourself that the guards were unnecessary. However, all too often this approach results in innocent people being badly harmed. If you add the mental scars to the physical injuries then this will often stay with the person for life; even if the physical scars heal.
In this case it was only after enforcement action by HSE that the firm introduced measures that should have been taken before to protect against access to dangerous parts of the equipment.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for employees in manufacturing industries to be injured when cleaning unguarded, operating machinery. The risks from cleaning and maintenance activities should be considered as equally as the operational risks from machinery when completing a risk assessment. If not then you are asking for something to go wrong and for someone to be hurt.