A north east engineering firm has been fined for deliberately compromising the safety guards on machinery for production reasons. Putting production before safety is something the courts take a very dim view on.
South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard that H. Mullins (Earby) Limited, which produces precision engineered components, using Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines as part of the production process, including machining centres, milling machines and drilling machines.
The guards on the machines comprise of a sliding door which is interlocked. In February 2015, a HSE inspector found the interlocks had been deliberately defeated on three CNC machining centres, and a CNC milling machine and the interlock was broken on another CNC drilling machine.
HSE prosecuting told the court this action allowed employees to access dangerous parts of the machines during automatic CNC operations, leading to a risk of serious injury.
The court heard the company had been served with HSE Improvement Notices following an inspection in 2008 and a letter sent in 2012 highlighting similar issues.
The HSE have commented that the deliberate defeating of safety devices in any workplace is not acceptable. They have also stated they will not hesitate to take enforcement action against companies who continually flout health and safety law and put their employees at risk.
In this case the company had received advice on two previous occasions in relation to the guarding standards on CNC machines and had not taken appropriate action. Unfortunately, in our experience, removing or tampering with guards in this way is not uncommon; too many businesses seem to have the view that guarding is just an inconvenience.
PUWER makes it clear that preventing people accessing dangerous parts of machinery is an absolute requirement, which means there is no defence is caught by an inspector. Often we find that removing guards is not only dangerous been generally unnecessary; a full risk assessment will normally identify not only safety considerations but also how to get the task done in the most efficient way.
For Mullins (Earby) Limited of Jarrow, Tyne and Wear they pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and were fined £13,500 with £1,439.10 costs.