By Alan O’Donovan and Jake Bumpus, Safety Engineering Consultants at Occupli Consultancy.
In Ireland and the UK, employers have a legal duty to ensure that any equipment or machinery provided for use in the workplace is safe to use. In Ireland, the relevant regulations are Chapter 2 Part 2 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007; the UK equivalent regulations being the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).
The first priority of these regulations is to ensure that those having to use machinery at work can do so safely and without harm. When machinery incidents do occur, not only can people suffer serious and life-changing injuries, but there can also be serious reputational and financial impacts for the companies involved.
Examples of cases where these employer duties were not adhered to and therefore led to catastrophic events are discussed below.
“Worker’s finger severed in sawmill accident”
On 20th March 2018, an employee of Truro Sawmills severed his index finger on his left hand when it got caught in moving parts to the rear of the machine he was operating. The employee wished to gain access to the rear of this machine to see if he could find an explanation as to why the saw had been cutting inaccurately. As he carried out this check the machine remained operational and his glove got caught in moving parts leading to the severing of his finger.
An investigation completed by the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found that the operator had not received adequate training to operate the machine safely and that access to the saw’s dangerous moving parts was not prevented by the use of a guard. The company was found guilty and fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £15,594.
“Worker left paralyzed after hoist platform falls”
While working at a premise on School Lane, Seaforth, Liverpool, on the 9th January 2017, a worker suffered irreversible injuries when he plummeted from the third floor to ground floor after the hoist platform he was working in became undone from its attachments. It was found following an investigation from the HSE that the hoist had not been adequately inspected and maintained prior to the commencement of the job. A similar accident occurred at the buildings premise a year earlier on 25 January 2016 when a hoist carrying a worker plummeted to the ground floor once again, this time resulting in a broken heel bone for the worker.
The building owner pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. The building owner had failed to provide proper maintenance for their work material, and they had issued equipment that was not fit for purpose as this particular hoist was not suitable for use with a platform to serve different levels without significant modification.
“Employee’s arm crushed in conveyor belt incident”
An employee of Bateman Ltd had their arm crushed in a conveyor belt while attempting to repair a conveyor belt at their site. The employee was attempting to realign the belt when his arm was drawn into the mechanism. The employee had received inadequate training for dealing with breakdowns and maintenance, and there were insufficient safeguards surrounding the conveyor belt.
Bateman Skips Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 in the UK and was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,205.
An important conclusion from the above case studies is the severe repercussions which can arise, both for the affected employee in terms of serious and life-changing injuries, but also for the employer if they do not ensure their work equipment is safe to use by all. Penalties such as jail time and fines can greatly damage an employer’s business and reputation.
The risk of machinery safety incidents occurring can be drastically reduced if all machinery is subject to a robust machinery safety risk assessment by a competent person, and any risk reduction measures identified are promptly implemented.
Occupli Consultancy is a leading provider of Machinery Safety Support to many clients nationally and internationally. Our specialists provide practical advice, training, and machinery solutions to support your particular needs. Our team work to legislative requirements and benchmark against industry best practice.