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November 22, 2011

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Employee wasn’t trained in machine isolation

A supervisor who had only been in his role for four days, following two and a half months’ training, lost two fingers as he attempted to clean part of a large machine used for mixing animal feed.

As part of his role at A. One Feed Supplements Ltd’s facility at Dishforth Airfield, Thirsk, the man, who does not want to be named, was required to clean a discharge slide on the underside of the machine. On 10 August 2010, a production worker informed him that the air slide was not operating, a common problem due to a build-up of sticky feed deposits on the slide and runners.

The supervisor climbed a set of movable steps and reached up to clean the slide. As he did so, he was injured either by the slide itself, or the machine’s mixing blades. Two fingers on his dominant right hand were severed and he sustained nerve damage to the rest of his hand. According to HSE investigating inspector Paul Newton, the worker will be classified, at best, as 30-per-cent disabled in his hand, and has not returned to work since the incident.

Although the company’s system of work for maintenance and cleaning operations covered the isolation of machinery so that it could not be restarted inadvertently, the supervisor was not competent to carry out the job because he hadn’t received adequate information, instruction and training in the risks involved.

The inspector explained: “In this case, the company failed to make sure that measures were in place to prevent the movement of dangerous parts of the machine before any worker got too close – within the known danger zone. The supervisor, despite having some two months’ training at the firm, was not adequately trained in how to clean the air slide, or how to safely isolate the machine.”

Inspector Newton issued the company an Improvement Notice, which instructed it to carry out an assessment of how to do the job safely, document the method, conduct appropriate training, and implement monitoring of maintenance tasks.

“Maintenance-related incidents are of particular concern, as employees are often required to work without usual safeguards in place – thus putting added emphasis on relying on a safe system of work. A. One Feed did not have adequate information or instructions and, because of that, a man has suffered a lifelong disability.”

The company pleaded guilty to an offence under reg.11(1)(b) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. It was fined £15,000 by Northallerton magistrates on 21 November, and ordered to pay costs of £2594.

Since the incident, the company has reviewed its health and safety management system, and sent management and senior staff on two days of risk-assessment training carried out by a health and safety consultant.

In 2007, the company was prosecuted over a similar incident, when an employee was injured undertaking maintenance on an energised machine. On that occasion, it was fined £4000 and £2522 in costs, after pleading guilty to a breach of the HSWA 1974.

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