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July 2, 2009

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Lack of safe isolation costs worker three fingers

A worker lost three of his fingers in a faulty tape packaging machine after it started up while he was trying to repair it.

Ayr Sheriff Court heard on 2 July that Steven Glass had been attempting to use the machine, which was undergoing repair, on 25 June 2008 at the premises of meat processing company Belcher Foods in Prestwick, Scotland.

Unbeknown to the operator, a manager had called in an in-house engineer to look at the machine, who switched it off before leaving to repair another of the machines in the plant. When he returned to his station, Mr Glass attempted to finish the repair himself — the “normal practice” at the plant, according to Helen Diamond, the HSE inspector who investigated the case.

However, because the machine could not be properly isolated to prevent accidental operation, it started up, trapping and amputating three of his fingers. One finger was successfully reattached later in hospital. Mr Glass no longer works for the company.

Belcher said in mitigation it had been taken over since the incident, and has invested a lot of money in updating its equipment and purchasing new machinery. It now employs more engineers and has invested heavily in the induction and training of staff.

The firm pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure its employees’ safety, and was fined £30,000. No costs are awarded by Scottish courts.
Inspector Diamond stressed the importance of ensuring machinery is properly maintained and warned systems must be put in place to ensure equipment cannot accidentally be operated when under repair. 

She said: “This serious accident was entirely foreseeable and preventable. The company had identified a large number of serious faults with its machinery well before this accident, yet little was done to rectify these faults. The company also failed to follow the advice of our inspectors.”

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