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Plant Firm’s Time Saving Task Costs Worker His Life

17th December 2013
It can sometimes seem that firms find themselves in the dock and having to pay out injury compensation simply as a result of adopting shortsighted cost cutting measures, which compromise the safety of their workforce. During the present economic climate, the tendency to save on staff manning levels can be all too readily applied without a proper risk assessment to evaluate whether a specific task can be safely carried out as just a one man operation.

Figures released by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) at the start of 2013 show a total of 111,164 non-fatal injuries were still being reported between 2011-12, many of which would have been prevented if a regular risk assessment, proper procedures and maintenance schedules had been observed.

In the same period, slips and trips accounted for some 40 per cent of accidents, followed by accident claims for falls from height ( 14 per cent incident rate) in the workplace. Absent, faulty or disabled machine guards are a common cause of some of the most horrific injuries and there are numerous examples where two or more serious safety breaches combine to cause a serious or even fatal accident.

A plant hire company based near Bristol, North Somerset was recently prosecuted for the fatal injury caused by both the undertaking of a two man job by one operative and several safety switches disabled. The accident occurred when a 28 year old driver of a road surface removal machine became caught in the rotating blades of a tarmac cutter as he climbed out of his cab to change the blade, for which a second operative should have been in attendance to carry out.

Although the plant company understood the necessity of ensuring two men was the safe working method, it was discovered that they regularly just employed a sole operator as it was thought to be “quicker if the worker could leave his seat and observe the slowly rotating raised wheel.”

An HSE investigation also found that a safety switch in the operator’s cab and those controlling the individual cutting blades had been disabled. Pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and three breaches of Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 the firm was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £56,890 including costs.

An HSE spokesman said that there was “ scant regard to the welfare of its employees and took dangerous shortcuts in its attitude toward safety. The law clearly states that employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, which includes ensuring machinery and systems of work are safe.”

Unfortunately, as the UK economic recovery continues to make negligible progress, many factories and workshops could severely compromise the safety of their employers as staff cutbacks are made and equipment is less frequently serviced or replaced