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December 3, 2010

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Unsafe work practice went on for a decade

A factory worker suffered serious injuries to his hand when his fingers came into contact with a rotating blade as he cleared debris from a large circular saw.

Christopher Sillitoe, 20, was working as a machine operative at laminate flooring company Universal Mouldings Ltd’s factory in Aintree, Merseyside when the incident took place on 20 August 2009.

He was using the saw to cut pieces of laminate flooring, on a machine where it was common for sections of material to get stuck to the blade. To avoid this problem, workers were instructed to reach under the guard on the machine to remove the laminate material while the 0.65-metre-wide blade was still rotating.

When Mr Sillitoe reached under the guard, his left hand came into contact with the blade, which severed sections of three fingers and broke his thumb. He needed a six-hour operation to reattach his fingers and is unlikely to ever regain full movement in his left hand. He has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

The HSE’s investigation found that there had been a number of other near-miss accidents on the machine in the past. On 16 October 2009, the company was issued a Prohibition Notice, which required it to remove the machine from service until adequate guarding had been installed to prevent access to the blade.

HSE inspector, Jane Carroll, said: “Workers at Universal Moulding’s factory were put at risk for more than nine years, and it was inevitable that someone would eventually suffer a serious injury.

“The machine was simply the wrong one for the job. The only way of ensuring the laminate material wasn’t damaged when the blade retracted was for workers to reach under the guard to remove it.”

Universal Mouldings appeared at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on 2 December and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg. 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined a total of £5000 and ordered to pay £7500 towards the costs of the prosecution.

In mitigation, the firm said it complied with the Prohibition Notice by replacing the saw with a new machine, which has adequate guarding and doesn’t experience the problem of material getting stuck on the blades. The company has also sent three machine operatives on a health and safety course so they can help identify any unsafe working practices. The company has no previous related convictions.

Inspector Carroll added: “The company should have realised it was putting its staff in danger every day they worked on the machine, and found another way of carrying out the work. It has now installed a more suitable machine, but only after Mr Sillitoe suffered permanent injuries to his left hand.”

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