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September 3, 2008

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Worker loses hand after breakdown of management systems

A production operative had to have his hand amputated after it became caught in an unguarded machine at the premises of Hertford firm Ammeraal Beltech in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Bradford magistrates heard on 20 August that foreman Graham Parker had been employed by the company, which makes conveyor belts, at the time of the incident on 5 March 2007. Although he had known that a large glue mixing machine had been left unguarded for at least 18 months, he did nothing to rectify the situation.

As the worker emptied materials into the mixer through a circular top hatch, he accidentally dropped a 25 kg bag of polyurethane chips into the machine, and instinctively reached out to try to grab the bag. As he did so, his left hand entered the mixing vessel and became trapped in the mixing blades, resulting in his thumb being severed and the skin of his hand ‘de-gloved’. His hand was so badly injured it had to be amputated in hospital.

Principal inspector (PI) Keith King told SHP there had been a “failure of management systems” to ensure the machine was properly guarded and to make sure there was a system in place to maintain guarding and supervise the workforce. “The management system had broken down,” he emphasised.

Mitigation offered by Ammeraal included how it had now fitted the machine with an electronically interlocked lid on top of the mixer, so that it could not be operated until the lid was locked in place. The mesh guard had also been replaced, and a solvent pump installed to the mixer, so that solvent no longer entered the machine through the top hatch. The company has now established routine maintenance schemes, including regular inspection of safety features.

For Parker, it was recorded that he was the last man standing rather than being solely at fault. But PI King said that if there is a problem in a chain, management is ultimately responsible. “Parker had been at the front line and should have recognised that there was imminent risk to the man who lost his hand,” he stated.

District Judge David Thomas said the company had already been heavily fined for the “systematic failure” to manage its employees. He told Parker that although he had a part to play in the incident, he had not been the only one.

Parker pleaded guilty to a breach of s7 of HSWA by not taking sufficient care of other persons. He was given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay full costs of £500.

Ammeraal Beltech had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of HSWA 1974 on 4 February 2008, and had been fined £20,000 with full costs of £1143.

Paul Yeadon, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, commented: “Mr Parker failed in his duty, resulting in a horrific injury to one of the staff. The employer, Ammeraal Beltech, also failed to protect the health and safety of its workers. The injured person will now have to live with the consequences of these failures for the rest of his life.

“The HSE will not hesitate to prosecute both employers who put the health and safety of their workers in danger, and employees who similarly endanger their colleagues.”

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