Guarding dangerous parts of machinery is a fundamental control to keep employees safe and to comply with PUWER; yet in too many businesses it’s overlooked. It’s easy to question why we have been so stupid after it has gone wrong; but what is needed, is to ask searching questions before it happens. Don’t allow operators or managers to remove guards just because it makes working the equipment easier; otherwise the costs can be very high.
We have picked out a couple of recent HSE prosecution examples to show why you should question the safety of your machinery.
The first involves a Bristol-based printer of healthcare packaging, who has been fined for safety failings after an employee had two fingers crushed when they became trapped in unguarded machinery at its Cambridgeshire plant.
A 39-year-old print worker from Sawtry was working on a label printing machine at Clondalkin Pharma & Healthcare’s factory in Huntingdon when the incident happened. As he was trying to clear a piece of adhesive from the anvil of the machine while it was running, his right hand became caught and two of his fingers got crushed in an unguarded in-running nip. He subsequently made a full recovery.
The incident was investigated by the HSE who found the machine involved in the incident, and a further three printing machines at the factory had inoperable interlocked guards. This meant that operators were able to run the machines without guards in place. Despite having assessed the risks, the company did not identify this danger and instead relied on instructing operators to close the guards.
Clondalkin Pharma & Healthcare (Kimbolton) was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,890 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The HSE inspector on the case identified the need for employers to assess risks adequately. It is a well-known fact that unguarded printing machines can cause major injuries and Clondalkin should have known better than to let its workers use inadequately-guarded machinery. Instructing operators to close guards is not reliable enough, as this incident demonstrates.
In the second case a Middleton company has been fined after a worker suffered severe injuries when his right hand was trapped in a moving machine.
The 60-year-old was carrying out maintenance work on a pillow filling machine at Comfy Quilts Ltd in Stakehill when the incident happened in 2013. The company, which designs and manufactures pillows, quilts and other bed linen, was prosecuted by the HSE after an investigation found it had not provided suitable safe systems of work or adequate training for maintenance workers.
The court heard that the worker was attempting to rectify a problem with the pillow filler. The fixed guards had been removed to allow access, but correct procedures to isolate the power supply had not been followed and his right hand was trapped in the machine as a result.
He lost a significant amount of skin and badly fractured his thumb, which had to be pinned following surgery. He was unable to return to work for two months and could then only undertake light duties.
HSE served an Improvement Notice at the Stakehill site in the aftermath of the incident and also carried out an inspection of the company’s other site in Middleton. This resulted in further Improvement Notices being served, all highlighting the general lack of knowledge about the importance of machinery guarding.
Comfy Quilts Ltd, of Middleton, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £718.50 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The HSE inspector identified that Comfy Quilts Ltd should have carried out a proper assessment of the risks faced by workers, and then acted to tackle the dangers. If the measures the company implemented following the incident had been in place sooner, then the worker’s injuries could have been avoided.
As we tell clients why wait for your reputation to be damaged when these problems can usually be easily fixed.