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March 30, 2010

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Firm had not considered method for dealing with blockages

A company’s failure to specify how recently-installed machinery should be cleared of blockages has led to its prosecution by the HSE.

Morgan Est plc pleaded guilty on 30 March to breaching reg.11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and reg.3(1) of the MHSWR, in relation to an incident in which an engineer suffered severe injuries.

The worker was employed by Morgan Est, the principal contractor engaged by Yorkshire Water to carry out refurbishment of Neiley Waste Water Treatment works, in Holmfirth. Morgan Est had installed a new sludge treatment plant at the site and was in the process of commissioning it when the incident occurred, on 12 March 2008.

Huddersfield magistrates heard that the engineer, who was working alone at the time, came into contact with a rotating screw conveyor. He was later found wandering around by colleagues, but couldn’t remember how he had sustained his injuries. He was taken to hospital where his right arm was amputated.

The HSE’s investigation found that a fixed guard on the screw conveyor had been removed so that a blockage of sludge could be removed from inside the conveyor. The court heard that blockages had occurred before but on these occasions the machine had been isolated before anyone had tried to clear the passage.

Inspector Dave Stewart told SHP that although the company had a general procedure for the isolation of plant it had nothing documented in relation to the associated risks and method statement for clearing blockages in the plant during commissioning works. The company also admitted that access to the rotating screw was possible because the plant had not been isolated prior to removal of the steel-plate guard.

Inspector Stewart highlighted that a misconception still exists within some parts of industry that it is valid to test machines with guards removed during the commissioning process, but he did not state if this was an issue on this occasion.

The company was fined £6000 – £3000 each for the two offences – and ordered to pay £2613 in costs. It mitigated that it took the equipment out of operation until it had reviewed its method statement for the plant. It also reviewed its lone-worker procedures and replaced the removable guard with fixed-mesh protection so that workers can now see how the machine is running without being able to gain access to dangerous parts.

The company also stressed that it had supported the injured worker in returning to work in a similar role, which he was able to do within a few months of the incident.

Summing up the case, inspector Stewart said: “Morgan Est plc should have ensured the commissioning of the new equipment was thoroughly risk-assessed. Blockages had occurred previously on this piece of plant, and a clear and concise method for dealing with the blockages should have been established and communicated to workers on the site.

“Commissioning of plant can often present extreme hazards, hence the need for thorough planning and control of such work by employers.”

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