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January 15, 2010

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Worker severs fingers in unguarded guillotine

A worker severed four fingers while clearing a blockage from an unguarded machine at a plastic-recycling factory in Liverpool.

Wesley Dickinson, 22, was working as a machine operator for Centriforce Products Ltd when the incident took place on 26 May 2008. He and a colleague were operating a plastic extruder, which cuts plastic sheet material into strips. They had altered the settings of the machine to cut larger sheets of plastic. The automatic guillotine should have been deactivated, and the device set to buzzer mode, which would have caused a buzzer to sound at four-metre intervals, alerting the workers to cut the sheets by hand.

As the plastic ran through the machine it became jammed, and Mr Dickinson assumed that his colleague had isolated the guillotine and switched the machine to buzzer mode. He reached in to clear the blockage, but the blade dropped on his hand, severing four of his fingers. He was taken to hospital, where surgeons were able to reattach two of his fingers. But he had suffered severe nerve damage and now has only limited strength and movement in his hand. Owing to his injuries he is still unable to return to work.

HSE inspector Martin Paren said: “The company should have had a guard on the guillotine to prevent workers from reaching the blade. An automatic mechanism should also have been in place so that the power was cut if the guard was opened.”

Centriforce Products appeared at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on 8 January and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, for failing to prevent access to dangerous parts of the machine. It was fined £2500 and ordered to pay costs of £2438.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and carried out a fresh risk assessment at the site. It subsequently fitted guards around the guillotine to prevent workers from accessing the blade. The machine was also modified to have a key operation switch, in order for settings to be changed. The key is held by the operations manager who must be present if workers wish to deactivate the guillotine.

Inspector Paren added: “This incident has had a devastating impact on Mr Dickinson, who is only in his early 20s. He cannot return to his old job and will not be able to do manual work in the foreseeable future. This extremely serious incident demonstrates how important it is for manufacturing companies to have automatic safety systems, so that the risk of workers being injured is significantly reduced.”

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