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October 7, 2011

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Basic safety check would have avoided life-changing injuries

The thumb and fingers on a 26-year-old agency worker’s right hand were severed while he was using a firewood processing machine without a guard at a Shropshire farm.

Sitting on 30 September, Shrewsbury magistrates fined Hughley farmer Richard Griffiths £14,000 after the incident, on 16 December 2010, left operator Stuart Tomlins with a permanent disability.

Andrew Bowker, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, explained to SHP that there had been two safety failures at the farm. Firstly, the firewood processing machine had not been maintained, and had been operating with its splitting-chute guard open for some time, so that workers had been able to reach in to the splitting chamber containing dangerous moving parts while the machine was operating.

Secondly, the splitting control lever that was supposed to stop operatives using the machine with the guard open had been forced some time previously, so that the machine would operate unguarded.

Inspector Bowker said logs frequently became caught in the machine if they were not perfectly straight, making it necessary for workers to manually intervene to straighten them. “The important thing is that the machine is put in neutral and the guard opened before the straightening is done and closed again afterwards, but this takes time,” he said. “Forcing the lever was done for speed.”

The injured man had been instructed to use the machine with the guard open by one of the farmer’s employees, who had been tasked with giving him half a day’s training. As he put his right hand inside the chute, the hydraulic splitting ram that pushes logs on to a blade activated, pushing his hand through the blade along with the log and severing his thumb and all four fingers.

He was airlifted to hospital, where surgeons reattached his thumb, but they were unable to do the same for his fingers.

In mitigation, Griffiths said he and other members of his team had, since the incident, put themselves through Lantra Sector Skills Council training for agricultural businesses on the use of firewood processing machines. He had also invested in a new machine with a larger capacity and increased levels of safety.

Griffiths pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of non-employees and reg.5 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to maintain work equipment in good order and repair. He was fined £7000 on each charge.

Inspector Bowker concluded: “Firewood processing machines are dangerous if they are not maintained properly and used safely. The defect on this machine was obvious and had been there for many months. If Mr Griffiths had carried out even a basic safety check, he should have identified the problem.”

Griffiths was also ordered to pay the HSE’s full costs of £8500.

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10 years ago

Ridiculously low fine.