A maintenance engineer at West Midlands sheet-metal company H&E Knowles suffered “horrific injuries” after his head was trapped for ten minutes in a pneumatic metal press.
Wayne Hill, 42, suffered a broken nose and jaw, bit through his tongue and had his upper lip ripped off in the incident at Brierley Hill on 18 August 2011. He also sustained severe lacerations to the back of his head and neck, and muscular damage to his left arm, which necessitated extensive reconstructive surgery.
Mr Hill, who now has reduced sensitivity in his upper lip and nose, pain in his teeth and scarring to his shoulder, also needed to undergo counselling after the incident after suffering nightmares and flashbacks.
Magistrates heard that the machine, which presses metal sheets into wheelbarrow bodies, had broken down the day before the incident, and become stuck in the ‘down’ position. This was a “regular occurrence” at the company, according to HSE inspector John Glynn, who investigated the case and prosecuted it in court. Mr Hill managed to reactivate the machine for a short time, but it stopped again, rendering him unable to complete the necessary repairs.
The next morning he returned to try to repair the machine by replacing a micro-switch on the pneumatic cylinder. In the act of replacing the switch, Mr Hill did not realise that the interlocking switch on the guard door was faulty, which meant the machine was able to operate automatically with the safety guard open.
“Mr Hill became stuck when the machine unexpectedly started working, crushing his head and shoulders and inflicting horrific injuries,” said inspector Glynn, who told SHP that the machine was homemade and 25 years old; as well as being poorly-designed and not up to British standards. “There were no electrical or mechanical drawings, no pneumatic diagrams nor any normal technical information,” he recounted.
In addition, there were no operation or maintenance manuals and the machine had not been regularly inspected since 2009.
“If the company had carried out regular daily inspections, it would have noticed that there was a problem with the switch,” the inspector explained. “The company failed to take reasonable steps to protect its employees. It should have known more about this machine than just letting an engineer work out on his own what he needed to do.”
A few days prior to the incident, the HSE served a Prohibition Notice barring further use of the machine, but this was ignored.
Appearing before Dudley magistrates on 20 September, H& E Knowles Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 by failing to provide an adequate safe system of work for its employees. It was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay £7220 in full costs.
In mitigation, the company offered had its early guilty plea and said it had fully cooperated with the HSE’s investigation. It added it had made genuine efforts to remedy the failings in its health and safety systems by working with internal and external health and safety advisors, and has since re-trained its staff.
Inspector Glynn concluded: “Mr Hill was extremely lucky not to have lost his life in this entirely preventable incident. The company should have provided safe equipment and a safe system of work for its staff. Instead, it failed almost entirely to comply with health and safety legislation in that it designed, built and operated a dangerous piece of machinery.”
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