Two Dorset companies have been fined after an employee was injured by an industrial vacuum at a waste treatment and energy recovery site in Bristol.
The worker was employed as an industrial cleaner to clean thermal treatment units at the Avonmouth site. On 5 August 2013 he agreed to help empty ash, a by-product of the thermal treatment process, from steel barrels, using a specialist vacuum machine.
During the process, one of his colleagues used a fork lift truck to shake the vacuum to dislodge any remaining ash deposits from the filters. It came off the forks of the truck, overturned and struck the cleaner, trapping him underneath.
He suffered a fractured back and two fractured ribs, and was unable to return to work for seven months.
The court heard that New Earth Solutions Group Ltd, which runs the mechanical biological treatment facility, had commissioned an energy recovery facility next to the site. During the design, build and commissioning phases, the new facility was under the control of NEAT Technology Group Ltd. When the site began operating, responsibility of the site was transferred to New Earth Solutions.
An investigation by the HSE found that both NEAT Technology Group Ltd and New Earth Solutions Group Ltd failed to assess the risks associated with unblocking the vacuum filters and did not identify a safe system of work using appropriate equipment to unblock the machine. Clearly a critical issue because, like any piece of equipment, it would need to be cleaned and maintained in order to ensure it continued to work efficiently. But like so many businesses, these two failed to consider the risks of such activities; could this be happening in your workplace?
Because of the failures to risk assess, the two companies also failed to sufficiently train and instruct workers to unblock the filters safely and did not put systems into place to monitor or supervise the process. Why would they! As they obviously didn’t understand the risks, how could they have put suitable controls into place?
New Earth Solutions Group Ltd, of Dorset, was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,241 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
NEAT Technology Group Ltd, of the same address, was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,241 after also pleading guilty to the same breach of the same legislation
The HSE Inspector commented after the case that this incident highlights the importance of effectively controlling the risks associated with all work processes. This did not occur in this case, and the consequences could have been far more serious.