Britain’s oldest brewery business – Shepherd Neame – has been prosecuted for safety breaches after a 21 year-old agency worker lost a finger in an unprotected machine. This happened after a previous warning from the HSE had not been acted upon.
The incident happened after a worker had entered a fenced-off section housing a running production machine; he was hosing down an area when he slipped. His left arm instinctively shot out as he tried to regain his balance, but his hand came into contact with one of the operating parts of the machine. It immediately began to be drawn in by a sprocket at the end of a conveyor.
Realising what was happening, he pulled his arm back but when he managed to free his hand, he realised he had lost the top part of his index finger and crushed his thumb and middle finger.
The incident at Shepherd Neame Ltd, Faversham, on 23 June 2014 was investigated by the HSE. It found the company had failed to make sure that staff couldn’t access dangerous moving parts of the machine.
The court heard that the area around the machine was mostly protected with interlocks and light guards. However, the man who had been employed at the site for over a year, used a maintenance gate (that wasn’t interlocked) to access the area where he slipped. Because there was no automatic shut-off, the machine kept running.
It appears that there was a failing in the risk assessments to identify that there were gaps in the guards and controls; had a full PUWER assessment been completed by a competent person this should have been easily identified. It should serve as a warning to other businesses that asking for professional advice really can help to keep the business safe.
Frustratingly, the HSE had previously warned the business that the maintenance gate had been only sporadically secured since it had been installed. It had been seen to be open during an earlier inspection by HSE in 2012, at which time the company agreed to lock and secure the gate as soon as the line became operational again following repair work. The court was told that despite this agreement, the later incident proved that little had changed.
As a result of the incident he needed a full amputation of the left finger and repairs to his thumb and middle finger. He has been unable to return to work since and still suffers significant phantom pain and flashbacks.
Shepherd Neame Ltd of Faversham, Kent, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,007 in costs after admitting a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
The HSE Inspector on the case commented that this was an entirely-preventable incident. Shepherd Neame was aware of the guarding requirements for such a machine, but neglected to make sure that these safety measures were fully and consistently implemented.