A factory worker suffered life-changing leg injuries during a lifting operation, which a sheriff described as being “doomed to failure”. Craig Stewart, 22, was clearing equipment as part of the decommissioning of a workshop at AG Brown Ltd’s factory in Glenrothes, Scotland, when the incident took place on 26 May 2010.
Mr Stewart and a colleague decided to lift a lathe, which weighed 1.2 tonnes, using a lifting eye and a fabric sling hooked over the forks of a forklift truck. But the doorway of the workshop was not high enough to allow the vehicle to pass through when its forks were raised. To overcome this the men decided to lower the lathe on to three skates. Mr Stewart was crouching down to straighten one of the skates, when the unsecured lathe became unbalanced and fell on to his right leg. He suffered a broken right leg and was rushed to hospital for treatment and had surgery to insert a pin in his leg.
The HSE visited the workshop and issued a Prohibition Notice, which required the work to stop until a risk assessment has carried out and a safe system of work was created to remove the machinery. HSE inspector Jane Scott said: “It was entirely foreseeable that the lathe could topple when it was placed unsecured on three skates instead of four. As moving the lathe was not part of AG Brown’s usual business, it did not fall within the scope of the company’s existing safety procedures. In identifying that it needed to be moved, the company should have assessed the risks involved and ensured there was a safe system of work in place. Instead, Mr Stewart suffered a painful and lasting injury because his employer left him to work unsupervised and without clear instructions about how he was supposed to do the work he’d been asked to.”
AG Brown appeared at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court on 23 February and was fined £10,000 after pleading guilty to breaching s2 of the HSWA 1974.In delivering the sentence, Sheriff James Williamson said: “This piece of plant was moved without any thought being given to how it could be done safely. There was no risk assessment, and it was left to the men on the ground to make the best they could of a dangerous job. "What they came up with was, frankly, Heath Robinson. It was doomed to failure and a man suffered a serious injury.”
The company had no previous safety convictions. After the hearing, defence solicitor Lynne Macfarlane told the BBC: “The company wants to express its extreme regret for Mr Stewart's injuries. Trying to move the lathe on three skates was foolhardy”.
The work was subsequently completed safely by attaching a jib to the forklift and moving the machine to the workshop doors. It was then was lowered to the floor, so the vehicle could pass through the doors safely, before the lathe was reattached to the forks.