It’s very rare for a week to pass without hearing another horrific report of an employee who has suffered life-changing hand injuries because of a machine with unguarded access to moving parts, such as rotating blades or rollers.
The problem is not confined to any one industry, and highlights how injury claims due to neglect, lack of risk assessment, inadequate training and supervision can unfortunately apply to companies across sectors.
Distressingly familiar failings
Two recently reported incidents of severe injury to the hands occurred in convenience food production and in the printing industry.
In the first incident, a production assistant at an East London food processing plant was feeding peppers into a dicing machine when they became stuck and blocked the exit chute.
The worker attempted to dislodge the jammed peppers by pushing his fingers through a gap under the chute unaware of the rotating blades just beyond the gap. The tips of four fingers on the employee's right hand were caught by the blades and completely severed.
Following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a list of distressingly familiar failings emerged, including insufficient risk assessment for use of the machine, failure to prevent access to the machine's dangerous moving parts, insufficient instruction, training or supervision and inadequate safety checks to ensure machine controls were clearly visible.
According to the HSE, "... given that the company would be well aware that their industry has one of the highest incident rates in manufacturing...there was an array of problems with the dicing machine, some of which the company were aware, yet they chose not to take corrective action.”
The company was fined a total of £27,400 inc. costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Duty on employers to control risks and protect their workforce
In the second incident, at a printing firm based in Kent, a worker suffered a severe and horrific hand injury on a printing press where a vital safety guard had been removed. An almost identical set of company failings were discovered.
According to the HSE, the printing industry is also well known for accidents involving trapped fingers and hands and it is the duty for employers “to take adequate steps to control risks and protect their workforce."
The incident occurred when an employee, aged 30, was using a printer's knife to help with filling an ink reservoir which feeds rollers transporting ink to printing plates. The knife stuck during the refilling process, causing his right hand to be pulled between two rotating rollers and removing most of the skin. The worker was hospitalised for five days, required a skin graft and has been left with permanent scarring.
The HSE inspectors found that the machinery guards, which should have been in place to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the roller system while the press was running, had been removed four days earlier for cleaning and had not been replaced.
In addition, seven other workers had operated the machine with the protective safety guards removed, all at potential risk of suffering a similar accident.
The company's lack of proper risk assessment had meant the risks involved in cleaning the press while it was turned on and running it without the necessary guards in place had not been identified.
Accordingly, the printing company was fined a total of £15,400 (inc. costs) after pleading guilty to two separate breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and a single breach of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.