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May 2, 2012

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Company castigated over conveyor crush

A worker suffered serious injuries when he was flattened on a conveyor belt at the factory of a multinational brick-making company.

Kidderminster Magistrates’ Court heard that the 48-year-old worker, who does not want to be named, was rectifying a fault to a brick packaging line at Wienerberger Ltd’s factory in Hartlebury, Worcestershire, when the incident happened on 19 October 2009.

He entered the safety zone around the line, which was protected by a perimeter fence with interlocked access gates, and climbed up on to the static conveyor belt to fix the problem. But as soon as he had done so, the machine restarted and a pallet lifter descended and crushed him.

He sustained a serious puncture wound to his back and cracks to several ribs, as well as extensive bruising to his face and leg. His injuries resulted him being off work for six weeks.

The HSE investigation found an interlock on one of the gates, which should have isolated the machinery, had been disconnected several days before the incident to allow a printer within the perimeter fence to be serviced.

HSE inspector Chris Gregory told SHP that the practice of disconnecting interlocks had happened on “numerous occasions” at the factory. The protection device on the machine should have been installed with security screws, but had instead been fitted with standard screws that could be easily undone with an Allen key. The inspector said this was a direct contravention of reg.11(3) of PUWER 1998, which states that security devices should not be easily by-passed or defeated.

He also explained that the company engineer claimed he had reconnected the interlock after the service, but there was no paperwork to confirm this had happened, or whether it had been disconnected again in the intervening days up to the incident.

The company had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment in relation to the dangers arising from working on the printer within the perimeter security fence and the necessary controls. It also exercised a lack of control over its management systems and had no permit-to-work system in place to ensure that workers were protected when operating in unsafe zones.

Appearing in court on 30 April, Wienerberger Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999 and reg.11(3) of PUWER 1998. The company was fined £8000 on the first charge and £12,000 on the latter, with full costs of £11,611 imposed.

Summing up the case, Inspector Gregory said: “A man suffered potentially life-changing injuries following an incident that should never have happened. Deliberately by-passed interlocking devices are a common cause of injuries in the manufacturing sector.”

The company put in place tighter management controls as soon as it learned of the incident, added the inspector.

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