An engineering company has been fined after an employee injured his hand on a CNC milling machine on which a safety lock had been disabled. The worker, who was attempting to clear swarf, almost lost a finger.
Magistrates were told that the experienced machinist had entered the machine to clear swarf with a stick; his hand slipped and came into contact with a rotating cutter, which cut and almost severed his index finger. The worker has since had to have two operations and was unable to work for a considerable period.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and discovered that an interlock switch on the sliding access door of the machine had been dismantled and deliberately disabled. An HSE inspector established that it had been in this condition for at least two years. If the interlock had been working it would have prevented personnel from entering the machine until the cutter had stopped rotating.
Despite this serious incident, a subsequent visit by the HSE found that the machine was still being used in exactly the same way, with a disabled interlock.
The company was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £1121 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 1(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER 98).
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Caroline Bird said: "This was a completely needless and entirely preventable incident that left an employee with a painful injury.
"The CNC machine had been fitted with safety devices by the manufacturer, but [the company] had allowed employees to deliberately dismantle them - a practice that had continued unchallenged for at least two years. Regular checks or visual inspection would have immediately identified that the switch had been deliberately disabled.
"HSE will not hesitate to prosecute companies where key safety devices such as interlock switches are manipulated in this way. Interlock switches are fitted to protect operators - they should not be overridden and management should not turn a blind eye to such practices."
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