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October 31, 2008

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Factory was “ridiculously noisy” despite warnings

A Lincoln sheet-metal fabricator has appeared in court in what the HSE believes is the first proactive prosecution for potentially dangerous noise levels in ten years.

The problem came to light during an investigation into an incident in which a machine operator fractured his foot after tripping over a pallet of waste and dropping a 40kg rubbish drawer from a plasma-cutting machine on to it.

GB Logan Fabrications was fined £2500 after pleading guilty before Lincoln magistrates on 8 October to breaching reg.6(2) of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 by failing to take measures to reduce excessive machinery noise. For the fracture incident, it was fined a further £2500 for admitting a breach of reg.3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 for failing to make a sufficient assessment of the risks to its employees’ safety.

The HSE’s inspection after this incident discovered the factory was “ridiculously noisy,” according to inspector Judith McNulty-Green. Investigators needed to shout very loudly to make themselves heard. “Although workers had been given ear defenders, they had not received proper training and instruction in how to wear them,” she said. The firm had been issued with warnings and advice about noise two years earlier.

Ms McNulty-Green remarked: “Ongoing high noise levels could potentially damage the hearing of the entire workforce. This company was aware of the high levels of noise, but took no practical action to reduce workers’ exposure.”

The firm said in mitigation for the fracture incident that it did have a risk assessment in place for the machine, but it had been an oversight that the assessment did not cover cleaning. Simple changes had since been made so that the drawers did not have to be manually handled in order to empty them.

As for the noise issue, inspector McNulty-Green said: “Other employers similarly relying on hearing protection, and not properly considering what can be done to reduce noise exposure, should take note of this case.”

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