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March 12, 2009

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Worker severs fingers in unguarded machine

A factory worker severed all four fingers and a thumb from his left hand after it was drawn into an unguarded ribbon blender.

Trafford Magistrates’ Court heard that a production operative at BASF Construction Chemicals (UK) Ltd’s factory, in Swinton, was cleaning the machine when the accident took place on 5 November 2007.

The machine is used to mix products that produce coloured concrete additives, and needs to be cleaned to avoid cross-contamination when different colours are used. After the workman had used a pressure hose to clean the inside of the machine, he threw some disused rags into the blender, and left them to circulate, in order to dry the device. This method of work was common at the factory and the workman had carried out this process many times before.

He returned 30 minutes later and noticed that one of the rags was hanging out of the bottom of the machine’s discharge chute. When he attempted to remove the rag, his arm was drawn up the chute, and into the blades in the blender, which severed all of the fingers and the thumb on his left hand. He was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery to reattach two of his fingers, but his other digits were too badly damaged to be saved. As a result of the injuries he has been unable to return to work and is awaiting further surgery.

BASF Construction Chemicals appeared in court on 10 March and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. Magistrates handed the firm a £12,000 fine and ordered it to pay £7280 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said that it had only taken over the factory a few months before the accident and had inherited the machinery and employees. The company pointed out that it has now removed the machine, and it no longer carries out the mixing process. It has also carried out a comprehensive risk assessment and given health and safety training to its staff.

HSE inspector, Carl Jones, said: “This was a completely avoidable incident, which ended in serious injuries for an employee, but a more serious incident could well have occurred here. Not only was there no guard on the discharge chute, but there was no safe system of work for cleaning this machine.

“This prosecution should highlight to all companies the need to ensure that machines are properly guarded and that there are suitable written safe systems of work for tasks, such as cleaning. This employee is going to have to live with the consequences of these management failings, but lessons must be learnt by other employers.”

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