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June 9, 2009

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Man tried to clear blockage from unguarded device

A factory worker received a double fracture to one of his fingers after his hand was drawn into an unguarded rotating part of a chained conveyor.

Robert Smith, 55, was working as a machine operator for Metal Containers Ltd at the firm’s factory in Burton-upon-Trent. The company produces industrial containers and Mr Smith was feeding metal lids into a machine, which processes them for lacquering, when the incident took place on 29 March 2008.

The lids are placed on to a conveyor and are sprayed with lacquer. They then roll on to another conveyor, where they are lifted by wickets and placed in an oven, so that the lacquer can bake. On occasions the wickets failed to take hold of the lids properly, causing them to become jammed inside the oven entrance. When this happens a trip switch is triggered, which switches off the oven but does not cut the power to the conveyors.

At the time of the incident Mr Smith was trying to clear a backlog of seven lids, which had built up and was blocking the machine. He removed the lids and, as the lacquer had run, placed them back on the conveyor belt to be re-sprayed. But, as he moved the lid that was closest to the oven, his right hand was pulled into the chain sprocket at the end of the conveyor. He was able to free his hand from the protective glove he was wearing before it was drawn in any further. He required treatment for two fractures to his middle finger, the nail of which had been removed by the force of the machine.

Metal Containers Ltd appeared at Burton Magistrates’ Court on 8 June and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999 — fine £2000, and s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 — fine £5000. It also had to pay full costs of £5735.

The firm entered an early guilty plea and has no previous convictions. Since the incident, it has installed perimeter fencing around the conveyor, which cuts power to all parts of the machine when the access gate is opened.

HSE inspector, Lyn Spooner, said: “The dangers of using machines without suitable safeguards are well known and long-established. Serious injuries such as amputation can result when limbs, or parts of limbs, become trapped by moving parts, so it is fortunate that, in this case, injuries were not more severe.
 
“Allowing machines to be operated without suitable and appropriate guards blatantly ignores the safety of employees and is a fundamental failure by the company.
 
“HSE publishes Approved Codes of Practice, guidance and information leaflets to give practical advice on machinery guarding. There is no excuse for duty-holders failing to control risks and protect employees.”

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