Thursday 9 February 2012

Company failed to check interlocks

A worker at a fencing manufacturer suffered serious arm injuries when a machine started moving unexpectedly while he was reaching inside to repair a fault.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, was working at Betafence Ltd’s factory in Shepcote Lane, Sheffield when the incident took place on 7 August 2009. He was operating a wire-drawing machine, which thins wire so it can be used as fencing.

The line of wire often broke when it passed through the machine, at which point the operator was required to isolate the machine and weld the wire back together. In order to access the wire, he needed to take out a moveable guard, which was fitted with an interlocking device designed to isolate the machine when the guard is removed.

However, when the worker leant into the machine and withdrew the guard the interlock failed to cut the power to the block, and the machine started moving unexpectedly. His right arm was pulled through the rotating block and he suffered a dislocated elbow, compound fractures to his lower arm, and parts of his skin were ripped off. He subsequently needed three skin grafts and two metal plates have been fitted into his forearm. He has been unable to return to work owing to his injuries.

HSE inspector Jill Thompson told SHP that the company regularly checked to see if the guards were in place, but failed to test whether the interlocks were operational. She said: “This is an example of how a simple failure of a safety switch can result in life-changing injuries. Had the company included safety-switch checking as part of the guard-checking system, this incident would probably have been avoided. “Prevention of access to moving parts of machinery is a clear duty upon employers and includes making sure that safety features of machines are maintained effectively.”

Betafence appeared at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court on 3 February and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.11(1) of PUWER 1998. It was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £3762 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it removed the machine from service immediately and subsequently installed a relay on each to monitor the state of the interlocks. It cooperated with the investigation and entered an early guilty plea.

In July 2003, the company was fined £7000 for breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 after a worker was injured while working on a similar machine at the same factory.

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