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February 8, 2013

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Unsupervised worker, 16, maimed by defective wood-chipper

A teenager has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression brought on by an incident in which his foot was mangled by a poorly-maintained wood-chipper.

Connor Harfield, from Bracknell, then aged just 16, lost all of the toes and most of the ball on his right foot in the incident at Auckland Close, in Maidenhead, on 23 September 2011. Now 18, he still suffers pain and has been left with permanent impairment.

The young worker was only three weeks into his first job as a general labourer for Calibra Tree Surgeons Ltd, Reading magistrates were told on 5 February. He was working alongside a more experienced colleague, although the company had set out no formal rules regarding supervision.

Working on the site of a small residential property, the more experienced worker was cutting back shrubbery at the back of the building, while Connor was at the front of the property, feeding brushwood into a mobile wood-chipper, which can be moved from site to site as a trailer.

Connor inserted his right foot into the chute of the machine to speed up the flow, but his shoe snagged on the feed rollers and was drawn into the cutting blades. The chipper was missing a vital safety bar around the bottom of the feed chute, which hindered the teenager’s ability to disable the machine. When he eventually did so and raised the alarm, his colleague came to his aid and an ambulance was called.

An HSE investigation established that Connor was inadequately trained and had effectively been left to his own devices, allowing him to choose a method of work that posed a clear risk. Calibra had identified the machine’s defect 11 days prior to the incident. Although it had informed workers about the problem, and had ordered a replacement part from a supplier, the firm allowed its continued use while waiting for the part to arrive.

HSE inspector Daniel Hilbourne said: “No responsible company would keep equipment with defective safety measures in use, especially a piece of equipment like a wood-chipper, which is known to be dangerous because of the very nature of what it does. Neither would a responsible company leave a young, inexperienced worker to his own devices around such machinery without adequate training and supervision.

“Yet, that is precisely what Calibra Tree Surgeons allowed, and a teenager has been left with permanent impairment and psychological scarring as a result.”

Pleading guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, reg.3(4) of the MHSWR 1999, and reg.11(1) of PUWER 1998, Calibra Tree Surgeons Ltd was fined a total of £7000 and ordered to pay full costs of £5973.

The company mitigated that it complied with a Prohibition Notice, issued by the HSE, to stop using the wood-chipper while it was in an unsafe condition. It also switched to more formal contract arrangements, so that it now only uses experienced and competent employees, and tightened up its pre-use checks of work equipment.

Summing up the case, inspector Hilbourne said: “It is well-known that young people in the workplace are often less risk-averse, and they need to be closely and carefully monitored when using machinery. It is also imperative that machinery is well-maintained and is pre-checked before use. Had that happened here, this serious incident could have been prevented.”

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Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

I agree Bill. I also think Bob makes good points.

How many companies doing work like this, shy away from employing youngsters because it’s seen as ‘too difficult & too much paperwork’ too hire & train them. These are exactly the sort of jobs that those lower down down the educational scale are perfect for; not everyone can be a H&S Officer.

Andy
Andy
8 years ago

Does the size of the fine make any real difference, it doesn’t make the life of the injured person any easier, and the company have already decided to stop offering work to young people, and formalised their H&S system.
For someone so new to the job only 100% supervision is suitable, so they could have been working together rather than doing seperate tasks.
It’s sad, it’s unfortunate, it was avoidable, and will be avoided in the future. 20×20 hindsight.

Bill
Bill
8 years ago

Now; what sort of training does a chap need; by LAW; to be encouraged not to put his foot in to a chipping machine?

Bob
Bob
8 years ago

Another illustration of the missguided perception of common sence prevails in humanity?

3 seperate offences commited and the resultant fine is 7k? defies all logic.

Damages are insurable fines are not. The serious nature of failure really should be penalised to reflect this.

Had he died as a result the severity of penalty would be considerable, yet the circumstances leading to the incident do not change.

This is an unjust penalty for such neglect and complicity?

Bob
Bob
8 years ago

Fine are supposed to represent the serious nature of the offence less mitigating factors?

Given that the only mitigation offered was post offence, we should be questioning how a potential fine of 20k per offence is reduced to such a number?

The Duty of Care owed was neglegted entirely and they are complicite for failing to aknowledge thier duty and affording some protection measures easily achieveable.

We see repeated examples of such negligence, yet raely see proportionate redress?

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

Bill, allowing a machine such as this to be knowingly used in a defective state, is the major issue here. With all due respects to the younger generation, some will need more training & supervision than others. We do not know the full facts, does he have learning difficulties, or low self esteem, has communication problems etc? The key description is inexperienced!

Philip
Philip
8 years ago

This is the reason we have health and safety, the fine should have been larger, wonder if Mr Cameron would still like to simplify Health and safety rules… i doubt it or we would have more accidents like this where young lives are ruined

Wendy
Wendy
8 years ago

Totally agree with Bob, what does it take for realistic fines to be issued to companies who are undeniably in breach of legislation? Common sense, supervision, mentoring, where were they in this instance? Common sense is clearly not common!