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October 1, 2008

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Superdrug in dock over “inevitable” injury to student

High-street beauty and health retailer, Superdrug, has been fined after a 15-year-old schoolboy on work experience was injured by a conveyor belt at its store in Beverley, East Yorkshire.

The town’s magistrates heard on 16 September that Nathaniel Cousins and another boy had been on a week’s work-experience placement at the store on 22 May 2007. After receiving a brief induction, they were placed with an employee who showed them how to use the conveyor belt, which was moving goods from the ground to the first-floor landing of the store.

On the second day of their placement, the boys had been taking goods off the top of the conveyor on their own, despite the fact that it had been specifically prohibited for use by schoolchildren when the work-experience arrangements had been made between the schools’ placement agency and the store.

“There was a fixed roller table close to the conveyor that did not have any guarding, so providing a trapping point at the take-off point. It had been there for donkey’s years,” said Neil Huntley, who investigated the incident for East Riding of Yorkshire Council and prosecuted the case in court.

Other employees were not aware of the trapping point in which the boy’s hand became caught. “Fortunately, the other boy hit the emergency-stop button straight away. If he had not done that, Nathaniel could have lost his arm,” Huntley told SHP.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service had to be called to release the boy’s trapped hand, in which he broke a bone.

“Superdrug had been told three times before the incident that there was a problem with the guarding. There are no excuses,” stressed Huntley.

The company said in mitigation the accident had not been serious. Training was accessible on its intranet and it had enjoyed a good safety record over the last few years.

Superdrug was fined a total of £8000 for five breaches of legislation and ordered to pay full costs of £2650.

An investigation by Council inspectors found that the conveyor system fell well short of accepted industry standards for guarding arrangements, with several areas identified where employees could have become trapped. Store staff had not been provided with adequate training and instruction in order to identify such dangers.

Superdrug pleaded guilty to breaching:

€ᄁ s2(1) of HSWA 1974 by failing to ensure its employees’ safety — fine £2500;

€ᄁ s2(2)(a) of HSWA by not adequately guarding the conveyor system — fine £2500;

€ᄁ reg.11(1)(a) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) by not preventing access to dangerous parts of machinery — fine £1000;

€ᄁ reg.9(1) of PUWER by failing to adequately train workers in the use of work equipment — fine £1000; and

€ᄁ reg.9(2) of PUWER by failing to train supervisors of those using work equipment — fine £1000.

Paul Mears, the Council’s health and safety manager, commented: “This was an easily preventable accident, which clearly highlights the risks of working with unsafe machinery, coupled with failure to provide adequate instruction and training. An accident was inevitable and could have resulted in a more serious injury to the employee concerned.”

Huntley concluded: “This case should serve as a lesson to those companies wanting to take people on work experience. They are classed as employees and therefore must be given the same full protection as any other employee. If the premises are not safe to work in, prosecution will follow.”

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