Thursday, 27 June 2013

Sawmill fined £57,000 after accident on poorly guarded conveyor belt.

Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd., of Herefordshire, has been fined after an employee suffered severe crush injuries when his arm was dragged into the rollers of a poorly-guarded conveyor belt.

The circumstances were:
  • On 25 January 2012, a saw operator was attempting to remove a piece of wood from the idling end roller of the conveyor as it was interfering with the operation of the machine.
  • The conveyor was affected by a fault which the company had been aware of for at least three weeks. 
  • The fault allowed an increasing amount of wood debris to accumulate at the idle roller end of the conveyor belt making it more likely that the machine would trip out.
  • Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd failed to carry out a proper assessment of the risks associated with the conveyor belt. As a result there were no suitable controls in place, such as fixed or interlocked guards.
  • The conveyor did have a cover which was principally to reduce noise but also acted as a guard. However, the cover was not interlocked.
  • The company did not have a written safe system of work, which would have identified the need to isolate the conveyor before attempting to clear debris, thus eliminating the risk.
  • As the operator went to take hold of the piece of wood, his hand and then his arm got drawn in and trapped between the conveyor belt and the roller. 
  • His co-workers rushed to help and one pressed an emergency stop button. 
  • The conveyor belt then had to be cut to release his arm.
  • He suffered crush injuries to his upper right arm and nerve damage that has weakened his arm and hand.
Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd, was fined £57,756 (inc.costs) on 24th June 2013.

The HSE inspector said:
"This incident could have had fatal consequences yet was easily preventable had Pontrilas Sawmills carried out an adequate risk assessment of their equipment and properly supervised their employees. Conveyors of this type are recognised in the industry as being high risk, which is why they are so heavily guarded. Devices are installed on machinery with dangerous moving parts to protect those who work with them. Companies have a legal duty of care to ensure they are fitted and working effectively at all times. Failure to protect employees and put in place safe systems of work puts workers at unnecessary risk and is simply not acceptable. HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action in cases such as this."

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