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July 29, 2009

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Migrant worker severs fingers in unguarded machine

A Lancashire factory failed to adequately assess the dangers posed by a powder-mixing machine, which led to a Polish worker severing three fingers inside the device.

Robert Karpowicz, 21, was working as a production operative at Tetrosyl Ltd’s factory in Bury when the incident took place on 8 August, 2008. Mr Karpowicz and a colleague were using a mixing machine to create soap powder, which the company sells as a car-care product.

The men were asked to take a sample of the powder so it could be measured for quality control. In order to gather the sample, Mr Karpowicz stood on a platform adjacent to the machine and attempted to lower a container into a porthole. However, this proved problematic as the porthole was at an awkward angle from the platform. Consequently, the workers decided to collect a sample from a hatch at the other end of the machine.

The hatch was not properly secured and Mr Karpowicz was able to open it and put his hand inside to collect a sample. As he lowered his hand inside the machine it came into contact with a rotating blade, which severed the first three fingers on his hand down to the knuckle. He also lost the use of his little finger. As a result of his injuries he has not been able to return to work.

The HSE issued a Prohibition Notice on the day of the incident, banning the use of the machine until the hatch was secured, to prevent workers from accessing the blades. This was not the first occasion that the HSE had taken action against the company. In July 2008 an Improvement Notice was issued on a similar mixing machine, which also had an unguarded hatch.

Tetrosyl appeared at Manchester Crown Court on 29 July and pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, for not operating a safe site, and failing to provide suitable training. It was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6141.

In mitigation, the company said it had no previous convictions and has fully complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice. It also said it had carried out an internal investigation, and has subsequently dismissed the employee who was working with Mr Karpowicz, deeming him to be a senior member of staff who should have been aware of the dangers of accessing the hatch.

Mr Karpowicz’s line manager was also dismissed after a disciplinary hearing for failing to carry out adequate safety checks on the machine.

HSE inspector, Chris Smith, said: “This incident has had a devastating effect on Mr Karpowicz, who has not worked since. He was a keen sportsman but is now unable to use his right hand, and is having to adapt to living with the effects of the injury.

“The incident would have been totally avoidable if the company had followed the correct procedures. The danger of unguarded machinery cannot be highlighted too much.

“It is the employer’s duty to ensure risks to safety within the workplace are adequately assessed, and that correct control measures are implemented to avoid injury. This was further aggravated by Mr Karpowicz not having received training to use the machine correctly.”

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